On Henrietta Lacks: The Legacy of One Woman’s Cervical Cancer Cells
I’m not usually a big fan of Fresh Air, but tonight’s episode caught my ear – the host spoke with Rebecca Skloot, author of new book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” The book focuses on the cells taken from cervical cancer patient Henrietta Lacks, and how those cells (called “HeLa” cells) became the focus of a tremendous amount of research, and the lack of information provided to Lacks or her family about how science benefited from her life and cells.
In brief, from the story page:
In 1951, an African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer. She was treated at Johns Hopkins University, where a doctor named George Gey snipped cells from her cervix without telling her. Gey discovered that Lacks’ cells could not only be kept alive, but would also grow indefinitely.
For the past 60 years Lacks’ cells have been cultured and used in experiments ranging from determining the long-term effects of radiation to testing the live polio vaccine. Her cells were commercialized and have generated millions of dollars in profit for the medical researchers who patented her tissue.
Tragically, Lacks’s family seems to have experienced more of people wanting to get more from them instead of acknowledgment for Henrietta’s contribution or information about what happened to her or to her cells.
A transcript is available.