How HeLa Cells Changed Science By: Catherine Scott

Henrietta and David Lacks

Henrietta Lacks was born in Roanoke, Virginia on August 1, 1920. Henrietta grew up to have a family with her husband, David Lacks. After her fifth child, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She first felt a tumor somewhere near her abdomen, but it turned out to be growing at a massive rate in her cervix. Henrietta was very ill during this time, and frequently visited different doctors. She was very weak and wasn’t able to do things she was able to do before. She died at age 31 on October 4, 1951 but the doctors took her cells, which they named “HeLa” cells.

HeLa Cells

The first immortal human cell line was made with just a tissue sample that was taken from her. A HeLa cell is a cell type in an immortal cell line used in scientific research. It is the oldest and most frequently used human cell line. HeLa cells have made science history by being the first immortal human cells, and helped doctors know more about them. They also helped many people battling diseases and completely changed their life.

Johns Hopkins Hospital on Opening Day in 1889

In 1889, before Henrietta Lacks was born, Johns Hopkins Hospital was founded. This was the hospital that helps Henrietta during the time she had cervical cancer, and the doctors there discovered the first immortal human cells (HeLa). This whole process would not happen without this hospital and people.

First Immortal Human Cell Line (HeLa)

In 1951, George Gey successfully cultured the first immortal human cell line using cells from Henrietta's cervix. It is given the name HeLa after the first two initials of Henrietta's first and last names. This was very important to science because this was the first of its kind, and Henrietta Lacks went down in history. This is how the famous "HeLa" cells came to be.

This shows how much HeLa cells were important in the development of the polio vaccine!

In 1952, scientists used HeLa cells to help develop the polio vaccine. Many people were dealing with polio during this time, and they needed help to save their life. Doctors didn't have an exact explanation that would make the polio disease go away. They used the cells to help discover this and this was scientifically important and changed the lives of many people.

Cloning of HeLa cells

In 1953, HeLa cells became the first cells ever cloned. The scientists needed to use them for research and to help many different people, and the process was successful. This did make scientific history and taught scientists a lot more about cells, and helped them in their medical research.

George Otto Gey

In 1970, George Gey dies of pancreatic cancer. Even though he created "HeLa" cells, the research and medical process still goes on. He will always be remembered for the things he has done for science, and his techniques and skills he used to change Henrietta's life to make HeLa cells.

“She's the most important person in the world and her family living in poverty. If our mother is so important to science, why can't we get health insurance?” -Lawrence Lacks, Henrietta's son

I chose this quote because it shows how much Henrietta’s cells changed the world, but her family still goes through a lot of difficult times dealing with money. They couldn’t get into a good college or get the education they needed, or even get health insurance as they said. Even though Henrietta's cells were so important, the family didn't get much in return. This is important to Henrietta’s story because it will tell of the struggles they have as a family and show you what their life was like. It opens your eyes and really gives you a better understanding of what is going on.

Created By
Catherine Scott
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