Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman whose cancer cells are the source of the famous HeLa cell line, the first immortalized cells line and one of the most important cell lines in medical research.
Henrietta Lacks went to the John Hopkins Hospital complaining of vaginal bleeding. Upon examination by renowned gynaecologist Dr. Howard Jones he discovered a large, malignant tumor on her cervix. Johns Hopkins Hospital at the time, was the only the few hospitals to treat poor African-Americans.
Mrs Lacks began undergoing radium treatments for her cervical cancer. This was the best medical treatment available at the time for this terrible disease. A sample of her cancer was retrieved during a biopsy.
Today these incredible cells are used to study the effects of toxins, drugs, hormones and viruses on the growth of cancer cells without experimenting on humans. They have been used to test the effects of radiation and poisons, to study the human genome, to learn more about how viruses work, and played a crucial role in the development of the polio vaccines.
Scientists have grown more than 20 tons of her cells and they are involved in more than 11,000 patents.
Although Lacks died on October 1951, her cells which were taken without her knowledge or consent, are still alive today, and continue to impact the world.