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Henrietta Lacks
Henrietta Lacks


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Henrietta Lacks (August 1, 1920 – October 4, 1951)was an African American woman who was the unwitting source of cells from her cancerous tumor, which were cultured by George Otto Gey to create an immortal cell line for medical research This is now known as the HeLa cell line Henrietta’s cells were the first immortal human cells ever grown in culture They were essential to developing the polio vaccine They went up in the first space missions to see what would happen to cells in zero gravity Many scientific landmarks since then have used her cells, including cloning, gene mapping and in vitro fertilization When the cells were taken, they were given the code name HeLa, for the first two letters in Henrietta and Lacks Today, anonymizing samples is a very important part of doing research on cells But that wasn’t something doctors worried about much in the 1950s, so they weren’t terribly careful about her identity When some members of the press got close to finding Henrietta’s family, the researcher who’d grown the cells made up a pseudonym—Helen Lane—to throw the media off track.

Other pseudonyms, like Helen Larsen, eventually showed up, too Her real name didn’t really leak out into the world until the 1970s On February 1, 1951, just days after a march for a cure for polio in New York City, Lacks visited Johns Hopkins because of a painful "knot" in her cervix and a bloody vaginal discharge After a biopsy, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer Lacks was treated with radium tube inserts, which were sewn in place After several days in place, the tubes were removed and she was released from Johns Hopkins with instructions to return for X-ray treatments as a follow up After receiving treatment for the tumor, cells from the carcinoma were removed for research purposes without her knowledge or permission During her second visit eight days later, Dr George Otto Gey obtained another sample of her tumor These cells would eventually become the HeLa immortal cell line, a commonly used cell line in biomedical research.

The appearance of the tumor was unlike anything that had ever been seen by the examining gynecologist Dr Howard Jones who, with his wife Georgeanna, would go on to found the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine at Norfolk, Virginia's Eastern Virginia Medical School Lacks returned for the X-ray treatments However, her condition worsened and the Hopkins doctors treated her with antibiotics, thinking that her problem might be complicated by an underlying venereal disease (she had neurosyphilis and presented with acute gonorrhea at one point as well) Although it has been written as well Jones thought it might be an infection and tested Lacks for syphilis, but the results came back negative In significant pain and without improvement, Lacks returned to Hopkins demanding to be admitted on August 8 and remained until her death hough she received treatment and blood transfusions, she died of uremic poisoning on October 4, 1951 at the age of thirty-one A subsequent partial autopsy showed that the cancer had metastasized throughout her body enrietta Lacks was buried without a tombstone in a family cemetery in Lackstown, a part of Clover in Halifax County, Virginia Her exact burial location is not known, although the family believes it is within feet of her mother's gravesite.

Lackstown is the name of the land that has been held by the (black) Lacks family since they received it from the (white) Lacks family, who had owned the ancestors of the black Lackses when slavery was legal Many of the black Lacks family were also descendents from the white Lacks family A row of boxwoods separates the graves of white ancestors from those of the black ancestors[1] For decades, Henrietta Lacks' mother has had the only tombstone of the five graves in the family cemetery in Lackstown .



 
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