Tuesday, March 09, 2010

One Woman's Incredible Legacy to Humanity

One woman, who died of cancer in 1951 at the age of 30, may have contributed more to medical science than any other human being in history.  How?  By her remarkable cells.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the story of a forgotten woman whose endlessly dividing cells have led to some of the most important discoveries of modern medicine. Tissue taken without her consent when she was being treated for cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951 became the first line of cells that could be grown in the laboratory, a holy grail of science at the time. Lacks' unwitting contribution to science marked a major
Q: What happened to her cells? 
A: A factory was set up to mass-produce them at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. They were producing about 3 trillion HeLa cells a week and sending them to labs around the world.
Q: What were they used for? 
A: Everything. To create the first polio vaccine. They went up into space, they were the first cloned cells. They were used to develop cancer medications and drugs for Parkinson's disease.
A short article on this incredible story is here

What's even more awesome is that Henrietta was a poor, African-American woman.  Yes, all you racists out there who might have had polio or gotten cancer, you may owe your life to the unique cells of a black woman.

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