Henrietta Lacks The Women Who Changed Science Forever

Henrietta Lacks was born in Roanoke, Virginia. She went to John Hopkins on January 29, 1951 to get a knot in her womb examined. Dr. Jones found a nickel sized lump in her cervix. He took a sample of the tissues and it was cultured into the HeLa cell line. Henrietta was treated with radium and this caused her skin to turn black. She died by cervical cancer on October 4, 1951.

Henrietta's cells went to the laboratory of Dr. Gey. He noticed the cells stayed alive for longer than normal cells. Gey created a cell line with her cells better known as HeLa. These cells helped scientist research cures for diseases and learn more about cancer cells.

A HeLa cell is a immortal cell line that came from a tumor on Henrietta Lack's cervix. HeLa cells have helped scientist in many ways. They are immortal meaning if something goes wrong, scientist will always have an unlimited supply of cells so they can do many test. HeLa cells helped create the polio vaccine and have helped scientist increase their knowledge of cancer.


1952: Scientist use HeLa cells to help develop the polio vaccine. This is important because without HeLa, many people would still be sick with polio. Every year, 13,000 cases of polio were reported in the US without the vaccine. Now, with the vaccine, there are none.

1966: Stanley Gartler drops the "HeLa Bomb" and proposes that HeLa cells may have contaminated numerous cell lines. This is very important because all the information they have obtained from HeLa research could be false.

1973: The Lacks family learns for the first time that Henrietta cells are still alive. This is important to the family because they had no idea that Henrietta's cells were still alive. This caused a lot of confusion because some of them thought this meant she was still alive or could be brought back from the dead.

1973: Researchers from John Hopkins take samples from Henrietta's children without consent. Deborah thought she was getting tested for cancer when in reality they wanted to see if HeLa matched her cells. This was unfair to the family and caused anxiety in Deborah.

1985: Portions of Henrietta's medical records were published without the family's consent. This is unfair to Henrietta and her family. To publish medical records, they need consent which they did not get.

“When I saw toenails … I nearly fainted. I thought, Oh jeez, she’s a real person. I started imagining her sitting in the bathroom painting those toenails, and it hit me for the first time that those cells we’d been working with all this time and sending all over the world, they came from a live woman. I’d never thought of it that way”


Created with images by belindalampcc - "microscope sea urchin egg splitting" • skeeze - "hela cells bacteria germs"

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