In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a poor woman with a middle-school education, made one of the greatest medical contributions ever. Her cells, taken from a cervical-cancer biopsy, became the first immortal human cell line—the cells reproduce infinitely in a lab. Although other immortal lines have since been established, Lacks's "HeLa" cells are the standard in labs around the world. Together they outweigh 100 Empire State Buildings and could circle the equator three times. This month, PopSci contributor Rebecca Skloot's book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, tells the story behind the woman who revolutionized modern medicine. Here, five reasons we should all thank Henrietta Lacks.
1. Before HeLa cells, scientists spent more time trying to keep cells alive than performing actual research on the cells. An endless supply of HeLa cells freed up time for discovery.
2. In 1952, the worst year of the polio epidemic, HeLa cells were used to test the vaccine that protected millions.
3. Some cells in Lacks's tissue sample behaved differently than others. Scientists learned to isolate one specific cell, multiply it, and start a cell line. Isolating one cell and keeping it alive is the basic technique for cloning and in-vitro fertilization.
4. A scientist accidentally poured a chemical on a HeLa cell that spread out its tangled chromosomes. Later on, scientists used this technique to determine that humans have 46 chromosomes—23 pairs—not 48, which provided the basis for making several types of genetic diagnoses.
5. It was discovered that Lacks's cancerous cells used an enzyme called telomerase to repair their DNA, allowing them, and other types of cancer cells, to function when normal cells would have died. Anti-cancer drugs that work against this enzyme are currently in early clinical trials.
This is all beautiful science indeed.
However, millions of dollars in profits have been reaped from using this woman's body parts. What did Mrs Lacks and her family receive in return? Not a penny!
She was not wealthy, not very well educated and as most anyone in her position would do, she signed away all rights to her bodily tissues.
When good science leads to even better profits off the body parts of an ususpecting patient, the patient deserves some type of compensation.
Whoever wrote this popsci article, I'm sure is familiar with this side of the story, but chose to leave this part out. Shame on you.
George grey and his wife spent 20 years prior to 1951 looking for a very special type human cell that was strong enough to survive laboratory conditions , such a cell would be perfect for finding a cure for cancer . George was head of tissue culture research at johns Hopkins university .
Henrietta lacks had cervical cancer and she had a biopsy taken of her cancer cells . Within these cells the two found the most robust and fastest growing human cells science had ever seen .
Some pretty huge contributions to human knowlege have been made from the Henrietta lacks cells not to mention countless lives have been saved .
Henrietta lacks died of her cancer on the day that George grey made the announcement on tv about the discovery . It's a shame she would never know the contributions her cells made and continue to make to this day .
Henrietta's "body parts" were not the subject in any if this and she had was put to rest all her body parts in tact .
Cells cultured from a biopsy sent to a research lab are the property of the university if I'm not mistaken .
The biggest issue with that is they didn't tell her that they took the samples. I think that's why the problem of her family not getting profit in return when it was 'stolen' in the first place. Although, I don't know what the procedures during those times were, you might've not needed consent, and as steve28 said, it might've been the property of the university at that point.
Personally, poor or rich, I would have been satisfied that a small part of a single person could have done so much to better medicine. I read this on yahoo, there's a writer that's publishing her biography/story I think. Should be a good one.
My oldest daughter, grandson, and I went to Lackstown in Clover, Virginia because we wanted to find Henrietta's grave. The trip was bittersweet. No one with whom we spoke was able to give us accurate directions to the cemetery where she is buried, but we did meet a relative who is related to Henrietta Lacks on both her mother's and father's sides.
It was a good experience to meet a relative, but it was also sad because she does not know much about Henrietta's story, and she has no idea where the cemetery is. Yes, Henrietta Lacks, in death, has saved so many lives, but no one could save her. Additionally, most of the people with whom we spoke only know her as "the lady with the cells." I realize that she lived and died in Baltimore, but Lackstown in Clover was also a part of who she was.
I know everyone is chomping at the bit to help the Lacks family, to sue George GEY's relations, and/or get them compensation for Henrietta Lacks' contribution to society. All I have to say on the matter however is this: what John Hopkins Hospital did may not have been ethical, but it was perfectly legal - and still is today. If (heaven forbid) any of you were to get cancer and doctors took a piece of your tissue to examine it, then used it to conduct research, it's perfectly legal. There is no way Mrs. Lacks' family can ever see any profits from the industry built on her "immortal" cells. Rebekka Skloot does a wonderful job explaining it in her book, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," specifically at the end in her afterword. She (Ms. Skloot) does a great job in making you, as the reader, feel for the family, shake your fist at the establishment, and get fired up against the people that took Henrietta Lacks' cells without knowlege or consent...and then she tells the truth (not that the rest is a lie) that there's nothing that can be done. It's not fair, but it can happen again.
I would just like to say that I have never heard of Henrietta Lacks until Tom Joyner read a story about her on Black America web.com two days ago. I was floored and happy and sad if a person can be all of those emotions at once I was. It is a sad story that the family has not received a dime for all that Henrietta has done for science. Someone has got to stop allowing people of power to rob the less fortunate. Yes her cells were used to help science achieve so many breakthroughs but yet no compensation? The money that has been made off of the HeLa cells the mass production of this woman's cells to modern science and her family is still very poor. My daughter asked me "mom what would you do to make everything right and fair for Mrs. Henrietta's family."
And thinking long and hard on it, I just couldn't come up with a monetary figure that I would feel comfortable with. But I thank Mrs. Henrietta for her contribution to science (unknowingly) and I hope and pray that her family will receive some type of compensation for all that her cells have contributed to science. Maybe one day justice will shine down on her family but until I would just like to say THANK YOU MRS. HENRIETTA LACKS for your life and your contribution to life after death.
To all of you who have shared thoughts, I have come to view Henrietta Lacks as the "mother of medical scientific research". For me, she gave birth to a whole new way of looking at, and understanding, the body (cells); its function and response, not-to-mention that she helped to save many lives. I am grateful and thankful.
Let me say from the outset that I am an "institutional cynic" and I am not at all shocked by the audacity of George Gey and John Hopkins who ultimately abandoned all sense of focus on Ms. Lacks when "discovery called" - in other words, research, fame and fortune. You see, what is important to note is that Ms. Lacks was considered a "second class citizen" (from 1920 to the time of her death in 1951) while tissues where being extracted from her body seeming more valuable than she in whole. Poor, limitedly school learned, during the Jim Crow era.
I cannot claim that there was no public benefit derived from unethical action and non-disclosure - nor am I satisfied that nothing can be done. I contend that there is action to be taken to support Ms. Lacks' legacy and her family.
Imagine a one dollar campaign. $1.00 times all who have used HeLa cells in research, and/or $1.00 time all who have directly benefited from treatment derived from research performed with HeLa cells, and/or $1.00 times all of the families whose family member(s) benefited from treatment developed with Hela cells.
If organized and implemented with love, integrity, commitment, and honor it is doable. I have alway visualized such a campaign for a worthy cause. I think that this is one of great importance and purpose.
I had heard of this cell line while in college, but did not give it much thought. Recently , I began reading the book "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" By Rebecca Skloot.The book puts a human face on a poor woman and her family who trusted the medical community of that time.
My cells were taken in 1988, and made into a immortal cell line (MCF10). This cell line is made up of NORMAL cells, which makes it unusual. Both HeLa cells and mine are used together in research. This still happens today. There is a informed consent form that is much better then the one they used on me. Unfortunately the "ownership" of the tissue is of major importance.The patient has none. I was told there would be no money made off my tissue. Presently, a vial of my cells are selling for $279 (research), and $6000 (commercial).
Had I wrote a song, donated a piece of art work,wrote a book,etc. I would have been treated differently. Rebecca Skloot was right, I have been totally taken out of the equation.I am very excited over the contribution my cells are making to cancer research. I can't say the same for the " business" of cancer! Why did they patent my cells? Was it for control? Over what, profit,usage,or some other reason? How wonderful it would be if information could be shared freely. There are many problems facing the medical community. I don't have the answers. I do know that things are changing.People are becomming aware, thanks to Rebecca's book.