Sunday, February 7, 2016

Little Known Black History Fact...

Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951) was a black tobacco farmer from Southern Virginia who got cervical cancer and died when she was 31. Before her death, a doctor treating her at Johns Hopkins, took a piece of her tumor without telling her because he realized that her cells, unlike everyone else’s, never died. These cells named HeLa after Henrietta Lacks, have been replicated millions of times to create an endless supply of “immortal cells.” Before HeLa cells, scientists spent more time trying to keep cells alive than performing actual research on cells. In 1952, the worst year of the polio epidemic, Dr. Jonas Salk used HeLa cells to develop a vaccine for Polio. Other HeLa cells have been used as the basic cells that established the process of cloning and in vitro fertilization. HeLa cells were also used to determine that humans have 46 chromosomes and provided the basis for making several types of genetic diagnoses. HeLa cells have been used to repair DNA and have been used in Anti-cancer drugs. Although pharmaceutical companies have made billions of dollars from replicating & selling HeLa cells, Henrietta’s family has never been compensated. It wasn’t until recently that they even knew her cells were being used. In 2010, Rebecca Skloot wrote the book: “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” detailing her life. Oprah Winfrey in conjunction with HBO is developing a film project based on Skloot’s book. In 2013, a settlement with the family has given them some control over the use of HeLa cells, but still no financial reward. She is arguably the most influential person in medicine that the world doesn’t even know.

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