Extreme Humans

Henrietta Lacks – The Original Source Of The Immortal Cell

Last Updated on October 6, 2020 by Darshan Modi

Henrietta Lacks
Henrietta Lacks


Henrietta Lacks is the source of the HeLa cell line of immortal cells


Henrietta Lacks (Born Loretta Pleasant) was born on 01 August 1920 in Virginia

Early Life

When Henrietta Lacks was four years old, her mother died giving birth to her tenth child. As her father could not take of the family on his own, he moved them to Clover Virginia and the children were split up amongst their relatives.
Henrietta went to live with her grandfather, Tommy Lacks, where she met her future husband, her cousin David. David and Henrietta shared a small bedroom in a log cabin that used be slave quarters from the age of nine. When Henrietta was 14 years old she gave birth to their first child, a son, Lawrence Lacks and at 18 their second child, a daughter Elise who was disabled.
On 10th April 1941, David Lacks and Henrietta were married and later that year moved to Baltimore so David could work at the steel factory at the instance of their cousin Fred Garrett. David was called to serve in World War 2 and from the money left to them from Fred, David purchased a house for them, the largest and oldest African American community in Baltimore. David and Henrietta Lacks had three more children between 1947 and 1950.

About Henrietta Lacks

After the birth of her fifth child, Henrietta was diagnosed with cervical cancel after severe haemorrhaging and a biopsy was performed on her at the Hopkins Hospital in Maryland. She was diagnosed with cervical cancel and given radium tube insert treatment.
On 08 August 1951 she was admitted to the John Hopkins hospital with severe abdominal pain, the cancer had spread through her whole body. She stayed in hospital till her death on 04 October, she was only 31 years old. Her headstone reads “Henrietta Lacks, August 1, 1920 – October 4, 1951 In loving memory of a phenomenal woman, wife and mother who touched the lives of many. Here lies Henrietta Lacks (HeLa). Her immortal cells will continue to help mankind forever. Eternal Love and Admiration, From Your Family”
Dr George Otto Gey cultured the biopsy cells and discovered that they could multiply indefinitely under certain conditions (immortal cells) which had a great impact on the scientific and medical field, known as the HeLa cell line. Henrietta never gave consent for the biopsy or the culture of the cells and to this day no compensation has been paid to her or her family.
The cells are of value because most cancer cells die before they can be properly tested, while the cells of the HeLa line reproduce and stay alive indefinitely, allowing for better testing and studies to be done. They have been used extensively in research into cures for AIDS, cancer, gene mapping and radiation. They were used for the development of the Polio vaccine and were the first cells successfully cloned in 1955. Today they are used to test the effect of many commercial products such as cosmetics and glue.
In the 1970’s the batch of cells became contaminated and members of Henrietta family were contacted to donate cells, which is the first they became aware of the HeLa cell.
In 1996 the first HeLa conference was held and recognition given to Henrietta Lacks for her contribution to science and medicine. in 2014 she was introduced into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.

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Genetic Or Learned

Henrietta’s cells were a result of genetics.

Henrietta Lacks Youtube Videos

Books Featured In

  • The Immortal of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot (2011)
  • The Life and cells of Henrietta Lacks – Middle School Baltimore group (2017)

Movies Featured In

  • The Immortal of Henrietta Lacks – Alan Ball (2017)

Documentary Featured In

  • The way of all flesh – Adam Curtis (2012)
  • The undead Henrietta Lacks – Adam Curtis (2010)