The Immortal Cells of Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks, an impoverished tobacco farmer in Virginia, contracted cervical cancer in 1951. Her doctor gave a sample of her tumor to a medical researcher, who then used it to grow a cell culture. What's amazing is that in almost sixty years, those cells are still alive, making them the longest-living human cells grown in a laboratory. Journalist Rebecca Skloot has written a book about Lacks and her cells, and submitted to an interview with Smithsonian:
Henrietta’s cells were the first immortal human cells ever grown in culture. They were essential to developing the polio vaccine. They went up in the first space missions to see what would happen to cells in zero gravity. Many scientific landmarks since then have used her cells, including cloning, gene mapping and in vitro fertilization.


Skloot writes about how scientists are using these unusual cells to study human immunity. But her book is also about how the scientific world collided with a largely illiterate family and how the human body has become a commodity.

Link | Photo: Lacks family, via Smithsonian

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White and Nauseated - It's a biopsy. You take a sample of cells and examine them to see what type of cancer you're dealing with. It'd be far more shocking to me if she hadn't had this procedure, because that would have been downright incompetent.

People donate tumors for research all the time. And if it had remained anonymous, as is standard practice, no one would ever have learned her name. I think Slacks should receive some recognition. But money? No. It's cancer, for heaven's sake. There are lots of cell cultures, and a random throw of the dice meant that these cells are both deadly and undying.
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Some claim that racism is not a factor, but can anyone truly picture this happening to a white family without consent? I'm white, and I can't. Horrible, fascinating tale.
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