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The immortal cells of Henrietta Lacks

Imagine something small enough to float on a particle of dust that holds the keys to understanding cancer, virology, and genetics. Luckily for us, such a thing exists in the form of trillions upon trillions of human, lab-grown cells called HeLa. But where did we get these cells? Through this video Robin Bulleri tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a woman whose DNA led to countless cures, patents, and discoveries.with the roof stowed.

Henrietta Lacks was a black woman who died at the age of 31 due to cervical cancer and other complications. But prior to her death, resident doctors at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore removed tumour cells that were studied in a laboratory. Her cervical cells were taken and grown in culture by a scientist called George Otto Gey. It grew like no other cells and it became the most widely used cell line in the world and helped in many medical discoveries including the polio vaccination and currently spearing heading research in AIDS.

The first human immortal cell line…

Her cells were grown commercially and companies made lots of money from her cells without Henrietta’s or her family’s consent.

Her cells were grown commercially and companies made lots of money from her cells without Henrietta’s or her family’s consent. Soon after, these cells which they nicknamed ‘HeLa’ were being transported from Baltimore to other countries around the globe.

The ‘HeLa’ cells have been examined in approximately 74,000 studies and were used to posit various findings on certain fields like cell biology, cancer, vaccinations and vitro fertilization.

However,  the Lacks families had no clue about the existence of her cells till a few years ago. For 62 years, immediate family members of Henrietta Lacks were never asked whether or not her tumour cells can be the subject of such research. They were so poor that they could not even afford health insurance.

Jeri Lacks Whye, one of Henrietta Lack’s grandchildren said he was not satisfied with the way the matter has been handled. “”In the past, the Lacks family has been left in the dark” about research stemming from HeLa cells. Now, “we are excited to be part of the important HeLa science to come.”

In the past, the Lacks family has been left in the dark

However,  the Lacks families had no clue about the existence of her cells till a few years ago. For 62 years, immediate family members of Henrietta Lacks were never asked whether or not her tumour cells can be the subject of such research. They were so poor that they could not even afford health insurance.

Does it feel fast?

According to sources, Henrietta Lack’s family will not receive any profit from the research.

Jeri Lacks Whye, one of Henrietta Lack’s grandchildren said he was not satisfied with the way the matter has been handled. “In the past, the Lacks family has been left in the dark” about research stemming from HeLa cells. Now, “we are excited to be part of the important HeLa science to come.”

One of the family’s biggest concerns is their privacy. They were worried about what people can know about their genetics and up to what extent would third parties have the rights to other relevant information.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recently contacted the family and has been coordinating with them directly regarding the issue. According to an NIH representative, Henrietta Lack’s family have already reached an agreement.

The new agreement was announced on Wednesday and it was agreed that two of the family members will be part of the HeLa Genome Data Team and regular reports about new findings is also expected.

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