Henrietta Lacks


Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman whose cancer cells were the source of the HeLa cell line, one of the most important cell lines in medical research ever discovered.

An immortalised cell line is a population of cells from a multicellular organism which would normally not proliferate indefinitely but, due to mutation, have evaded normal cellular senescence and instead can keep undergoing division.

African Americans are an ethnic group of Americans with total or partial ancestry from any of the Black racial groups of Africa.

Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body.

Henrietta Lacks: Her DNA fueled medical breakthroughs by CBS News


The HeLa cell line is an immortalized cell line, meaning that unlike most cells, which eventually stop reproducing themselves, cells from an immortalized cell line, under sufficient living conditions, will reproduce themselves indefinitely.

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Lacks was the unwitting donor of these cells from a cancerous tumor biopsied during treatment for her cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. in 1951.

The Johns Hopkins Hospital is the teaching hospital and biomedical research facility of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, located in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. It was founded in 1889 using money from a bequest by philanthropist Johns Hopkins.

Maryland is a state located in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C. to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east.

Baltimore is the largest city in the U.S. state of Maryland, and the 29th-most populous city in the country.


These cells were then cultured by George Otto Gey to create the cell line known as HeLa, a line which is still used for medical research.


The descendant of slaves and their white masters, Henrietta grew up in rural Virginia.


After giving birth to two of their children, she married her cousin David "Day" Lacks.


In 1941 the young family moved to Turner Station in Baltimore County, Maryland so Day could work in Bethlehem Steel at Sparrows Point.

Dundalk is an unincorporated community and census-designated place in Baltimore County, Maryland, United States.

Bethlehem Steel Corporation was America's second-largest steel producer and largest shipbuilder.


After Henrietta had given birth to their fifth child she was diagnosed with cancer.


Tissue samples from her tumors were taken during treatment and these samples were then subsequently cultured into the HeLa cell line.


Even though some information about the origins of HeLa's immortalized cell lines was known to researchers after 1970, the Lacks family was not made aware of the lines' existence until 1975.


In the intervening years, with knowledge of the cell lines' genetic provenance becoming public, the usage of the cells for medical research and for commercial purposes continues to raise concerns about privacy and patients' rights.

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