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Story of Henrietta

What is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks about?

The creation of HeLa cell line occurred in in 1951, the year their donor, Henrietta Lacks, died of cervical cancer. Taken at John Hopkins University, one of the only hospitals in the region which would serve black individuals. Almost immediately, the cells were reproduced and sent to many institutions across the United States and the world, places which might have refused treatment to Henrietta, herself.

Henrietta Lacks History


Continued History

  Henrietta’s cells were the first “immortal cell line”, the first cells to be grown and reproduced on a mass scale in a lab.  This was just the first momentous scientific discovery they are part of.  The cells helped developments on the Polio Vaccine, cancer treatment, and blood disorders. They have been included in over 70,000 publications and were involved with three Nobel Prizes [1, 2].

The darker side of this history is that further specimens from her husband and children were used without informed consent [3].  The medical industry has made a fortune using these cells without any benefit to Henrietta Lacks’ dependents.  This book includes a history of the family, as well as the injustices committed against them, both by society and the medical industry. 

Is this case unique?:

            The experimentation on POC without full or in the case of Henrietta Lacks any, disclosure is not unique.  Early birth control studies done on Puerto Rican woman and the Tuskegee Syphilis study are two other circumstances of lack of disclosure by the medical community [4, 5]

Why is this important?:

As mentioned in the book, BIPOC still have less access to adequate medical treatment, including mental health, regardless of income [6, 7]. Many professionals in the medical industry operate under myths about the differences between black and white patients, causing black patients to be undertreated for pain [8].  The understanding of this, and this discussion about ace, ethics, intersectionality, and equity serves to education on and correct these practices.



Newspaper Articles & Books


Get a copy of the book

Arthur Lakes Library owns two copies of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks