A Lady in a Fox FurFebruary 11, 2011
Pisces 14: A Lady in a Fox Fur
Image: Human Cervical Adenocarcinoma Cells – HeLa line
Back in 1951, when Henrietta Lacks, a 31-year-old mother of five, was a patient at Johns Hopkins hospital’s “colored ward,” doctors removed a dime-size sample of her cancer-ridden cervix without her permission and without informing her. Scientists, like George Gey (who first handled the study), had been trying to establish continuously reproducing cells for years for use in medical research, but cells never lasted very long. It turned out that Henrietta’s did. HeLa cells (named from the first two letters of her first and last name) grew, with what Skloot describes as, “mythological intensity,” So much so, in fact, that Gey began sharing them with others in the field. They went to the Tuskegee Institute where the first ever cell production factory was established, and then all around the world, as far as Chile, Amsterdam, and India; then onto the for-profit venture Microbiological Associates, and beyond.
When Lacks succumbed to the disease some eight months after her diagnosis, the legacy of her cells would later become a source of confusion and outrage among her family. Today, HeLa cells are still the most widely utilized in labs all across the world and are bought and sold by the billions. And her family, many of whom have lived in poverty all of their lives, never knew about any of this until 20 years after her death. Her husband, Day, had not been informed about the tissue samples or the astounding things that were done with them; the family found out about the cells through reporters, who, as soon as Henrietta’s real name was leaked, began to contact them with questions that lead them to believe that part of Henrietta was still alive in a lab somewhere, somehow. [Source theGrio]
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
Marking the Magnificent Memory of Henrietta Lacks – Scienceblogs.com
Henrietta Lacks’ Immortal Cells – Smithsonian.mag