I have been meaning to post this for ages, it is well worth a ponder.
How Henrietta Lacks’ cells were casually taken without her knowledge or that of her family, how she was commodified and exploited by the medical profession. How she and her family were treated.
The Guardian has more:
“Lacks was a poor African-American tobacco farmer from Virginia, who died at 31 and is buried in an unmarked grave. Yet the cells taken from her without her knowledge in an era of experimentation on African-Americans – the HeLa cells as they became known – have since replicated in research laboratories around the world, helping to develop the polio vaccine, treatments for cancer, and advances like in vitro fertilisation and gene mapping.
In a further twist, Lacks’s family today are unable to afford the healthcare treatments their mother’s cells helped to make possible, Skloot’s book explains.”
The Tortgraph piece is better:
“Within months of Lacks’s death, plans for a HeLa “factory” were under way. The stimulus was the worldwide epidemic of polio (infantile paralysis). In February 1952, Jonas Salk at Pittsburgh University had developed a vaccine, but testing it for safety and efficacy required culturing cells on an industrial scale, something that had never been achieved before. When, two months later, Gey, working with a young researcher, William Scherer in Minnesota, found that HeLa cells were susceptible to the polio virus, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis lost no time in initiating a cell production scheme that resulted in the mass production of the vaccine.
The availability of HeLa cells would lead to huge advances in medical research, according to Skloot. In 1953, a “lucky accident” by a geneticist in Texas working with HeLa cells enabled scientists to see human chromosomes for the first time; in 1965 two British scientists created the first human-animal hybrid cells using HeLa and mouse cells; in 1978, Louise Brown, the first “test-tube” baby, was born using techniques derived from the early cell culture techniques developed using HeLa; and in the Eighties, as Aids was generating fearful headlines, molecular biologist Richard Axel managed to infect HeLa cells with HIV, a major advance in understanding the virus.
However, it wasn’t until more than 30 years after Henrietta Lacks’s death that HeLa cells were instrumental in determining the cause of her cancer. A German virologist, Harald zur Hausen, discovered a new strain of Human Papilloma Virus HPV-18, which he believed caused cervical cancer. A sample of Lacks’s original biopsy showed that she had been infected with multiple copies of what would turn out to be one of the most virulent strains of HPV. Working with HPV in HeLa and other cells led scientists to a vaccine for cervical cancer and earned zur Hausen a Nobel prize.”