Meet the woman whose cancer cells helped save millions of lives

October 4th, 2010 - 7:04 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Oct 4 (ANI): An African/American woman who died in 1951, has been hailed as the person who contributed the most to science, after the cancer cells that were removed from her helped saved millions of lives.

Henrietta Lacks, a tobacco farming mum-of-five, was a descendant of slaves and died of cervical cancer in a segregated ward at John Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, as black and white patients were barred from mixing.

But shortly before she died at the age of 31, cancer cells were removed from her body without her permission, and research carried out on them helped bring about breakthroughs in polio, Aids and IVF.

The cells have helped develop the cervical cancer vaccine, shed light on TB and salmonella and pushed forward gene therapy and stem cell techniques.

Her cells were the first to have their DNA mapped and were even shot into space in 1960 to test its potential effects on astronauts.

Known as HeLa cells, taken from the first letters of Lacks’ names, they are still used in most labs across the globe and have made billions for the drugs industry.

Scientist Rebecca Skloot, who wrote a new book titled ‘The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks’, said she became obsessed with HeLa cells during a school biology lesson and wanted to know where they came from.

“My teacher said these amazing cells came from a woman who died in the Fifties. But she didn’t know any more about her - I wanted to know who she was,” the Sun quoted Skloot as saying.

“There’s not a single person in the world who hasn’t benefited from these cells in some way. Whether you’ve had a vaccine or taken tablets or medication, in some way Henrietta has made your life better.

“But there is still a lot of mystery around these cells. They have been intensely studied yet there is still no explanation as to why her cells grew while others didn’t,” she added. (ANI)

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