The immortal cells of mother-of-five Henrietta Lacks
ON May 29 five years ago, a headstone donated by Dr Roland Pattillo was placed by a family on the grave of their mother: "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."
Rebecca Skloot's 2009 book 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' tells the story of a 31-year-old, African-American, married woman and mother of five who died of cancer in October 1951 in Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore in terrible pain, as treatments and pain relief were not as well advanced as they are today. Unknown to her family, some of her cancer cells were taken without her permission before she died and have been used in the research of cancer and diseases since. Her cells have been used in the trillions for medical research since her death, as her family discovered in 1976, when media articles first appeared as to who was the person from whom the HeLa cells were taken. The name Henrietta Lacks first appeared in a medical journal in December 1971.
Her cells helped to find the polio vaccine. They have been used in research for 60 years and contributed to five Nobel Prizes for Medicine and 60,000 scientific articles.