Henrietta Lacks visited John Hopkins Hospital in 1951, complaining of vaginal bleeding. A mother of five children, Lacks was diagnosed by gynecologist Howard Jones with cervical cancer. After undergoing radium treatments, sample cells were extracted from her tumor. While the cells extracted from other patients suffering the same illness swiftly withered and died, those extracted from Lacks lived on. Not only did they live, they doubled at an incredible rate—in 20 to 24 hours.
Now known as “HeLa” cells, this tissue was used to study a variety of bodily issues, becoming the basis for a large number of medical advancements throughout the 20th century. Lacks died on October 4, 1951, at the age of 31, just over nine months after she visited John Hopkins Hospital and having never consented to the use of her cervical cells.
While a case brought before the Supreme Court of California—Moore v. Regents of the University of California (1990)—ultimately ruled that discarded cells are not the property of the person from whose body they originate, the case of Henrietta Lacks still haunts the question of gene... see more