Born in 1920 in Roanoke, Virginia, Henrietta Lacks is, perhaps, the world’s first “immortal,” as the cells from her body– known as the HeLa cell line– have played a tremendous role in modern science and medical research.
Lacks, an African-American, became the unwitting source of groundbreaking research in 1951 when cells were unknowingly taken from her cervix during a biopsy for cancer.
The cells from Lacks’s tumor were then given to researcher George Gey, who “discovered that [Henrietta’s] cells did something they’d never seen before: They could be kept alive and grow.”
Before this discovery, cells cultured from other cells would only survive for a few days. Gey was able to isolate one specific cell, multiply it, and start a cell line.
Gey named the sample “HeLa,” after the initial letters of Henrietta Lacks’s name. As the first human cells grown in a lab that were “immortal,” Lacks’s cells soon were used to conduct many experiments.
This represented an enormous boon to medical and biological research. Her cells would be used to develop the Polio vaccine, in-vitro fertilization techniques, and the modern field of virology.
Henrietta Lacks died in 1951 never knowing the contribution she had made to modern science and the millions of lives she has saved as a result.
Join Macon Library, located at 361 Lewis Avenue in Bed-Stuy to pay homage to Mrs. Henrietta Lacks!
Saturday, May 17, 1:00pm-4:00pm,
“Welcoming Spirit Home: A Community Celebration of Henrietta Lacks” featuring an Ancestral Rites of Return; Panel-Discussion, “Science: An Ethical & Cultural Responsibility;” and Community Healing Rites
Sunday, May 18, 2:00pm-4:00pm
“Giving Voice to a New Chapter: Descendants of Henrietta Lacks Speak” featuring David Lacks and Jeri Lacks-Whye, grandchildren of Henrietta Lacks, and Spencer R. Crew of George Mason University and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
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