We all know someone who has benefitted from the advances of modern medicine: a child who has received a life saving vaccine; a cancer patient who has received chemotherapy; a baby born through in vitro fertilization. But what most of us don’t know is that all of these medical advances have come to us courtesy of one woman’s cells.
On October 4th, 1951, a 31-year-old woman named Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer. Henrietta was buried in an unmarked grave, and her legacy was largely forgotten. But cells harvested from her tumor lived on to do something incredible. They became the first “immortal” cells in history. Henrietta’s cells – known as HeLa cells – were grown in a way that allowed them to live on outside of the human body and to reproduce indefinitely.
HeLa cells opened up a new world of possibility for scientists. The cells allowed them to understand disease like never before. And eventually, scientists used HeLa cells to make some of the most important medical advances in history.
While Henrietta’s cells were changing the face of modern medicine, the family she had left behind was kept in the dark. Henrietta’s husband and five children had no idea that the HeLa cells were providing the key to multiple medical breakthroughs.
It was a chance encounter with a medical researcher that led to the family’s discovery of Henrietta’s legacy. When the researcher said that he was working with the cells of a woman named Henrietta Lacks, the family was shocked. They discovered that Henrietta’s cells had been harvested without anyone knowing. And they discovered how her cells had been crucial to countless scientific breakthroughs. This was the immortal legacy of their mother.
While it took decades for Henrietta’s story to emerge, her amazing legacy has finally been recognized. In place of her unmarked grave, her family built a memorial. Henrietta’s tombstone now remembers her as a woman who “touched the lives of many.”
Over the years, scientists have grown over 20,000 kilograms of HeLa cells. And through these cells, they’ve learned a great deal about biology, disease, and medicine. They have helped to cure diseases, produce vaccines, pioneer medical treatments, and ultimately save lives. And behind all of these lives saved is an African American tobacco farmer and mother of five, who history has forgotten.
We all know someone who has been helped by modern medical science. But what most of us don’t know is that many modern medical discoveries have come to us courtesy of one woman’s cells.
On October 4th, 1951, a 31-year-old woman named Henrietta Lacks died of cancer. Henrietta was mostly forgotten. But cells taken from her body lived on to do something incredible for the first time in history. Scientists grew Henrietta’s cells, and they continue to live on and reproduce.
These cells opened up a new world for scientists. They helped them make some of the most important medical discoveries in history.
While Henrietta’s cells were changing the face of modern medicine, her family was kept in the dark. Henrietta’s husband and five children had no idea her cells were the key to so many medical breakthroughs.
Her family found out about Henrietta’s story when they met a medical researcher. He told them that he was working with the cells of a woman named Henrietta Lacks. The family was surprised. The scientists used Henrietta’s cells without anyone knowing.
Her family learned how her cells had been so important to science. Her grave now remembers her as a woman who “touched the lives of many.”
Over the years, scientists have grown over 20,000 kilograms of her cells. And with these cells, they’ve learned a great deal about how to cure diseases. And that is how a tobacco farmer and mother of five, who history forgot, saved the lives of many.