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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

50 Women Over 50: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years.

If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the effects of the atom bomb; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.

Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

The above is from the website of author, Rebecca Skloot - The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks

I'd never heard of Henrietta Lacks until I saw her story on CBS Sunday Morning, March 14, 2010. What struck me most was that her family had no knowledge that cells had been taken from her during her cervical cancer treatment, and, although her cells launched a multi-million dollar industry, the family can't afford health insurance. In fact, they've gone in debt because of heart surgery.

Work in under way to set a memorial stone on her grave.

Read more about this amazing woman on Wikipedia


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