Henrietta Lacks

Mrs. Henrietta Lacks cervical cells were essential to most modern medical breakthroughs.

Degree(s): None


Undergraduate Institution: None


Graduate Institution: None


Photo Credit: History.com


In 1951, Mrs. Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer at age 30. While receiving treatment at Johns Hopkins University, a piece of her tumor was removed without her consent and used to create the first “immortal” human cells. These cells, known as HeLa (for the first two letters of her first and last names), have been essential to most modern medical breakthroughs, including polio vaccines, in vitro fertilization, cloning, and more.


Fun Fact: Even though Mrs. Lacks’ cells made billions of dollars for the medical industry, her family initially received no financial compensation for decades. The quest to recognize her contribution to medical history was detailed in the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which was later adapted by Oprah Winfrey into an HBO movie.


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