The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks
I have heard it said that the truth is stranger than fiction. Well in this case that certainly rings true. With the noise emanating from the huge controversy in ireland around the misdiagnosis of cervical cancer only been drowned out by the recent referendum campaign on the 8th amendment it is fitting to remind ourselves about Henrietta Lacks. Henrietta was a poor, in monetary terms, black woman from Virginia in the USA. She died, age 30 from cervical cancer after having 5 children.
The book doesn’t just encompass when she was living and working to raise those children but what happened to her cells after she died. It’s a fascinating story and one I was completely unaware of. Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman whose cancer cells are the source of the HeLa cell line. HeLa is the first immortalized cell line and one of the most important cell lines in medical research. Lacks was the unwitting source of these cells from a tumor biopsied during treatment for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., in 1951.
After giving birth to two of their children, she married her cousin David “Day” Lacks. After Lacks had given birth to their fifth child, she was diagnosed with cancer.Tissue samples from her tumors were taken without consent during treatment and these samples were then subsequently cultured into the HeLa cell line. This work continued with the family completely unaware, the cells were taken without permission and used and profited from. All completely legal.
A great story and a reflection of society and the place poor people hold in the Western World