Henrietta Lacks's cells

On 4 October 1951, a young black woman named Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer in Baltimore's Johns Hopkins hospital. The mother of five children, Henrietta was 31 and, although poor, was remembered as being strikingly pretty. Apart from that, there seemed to be nothing special about her life.

But in death Henrietta was transformed. Cells removed from her body – without her family's permission – were subsequently used by doctors to revolutionise medicine. By mixing them with special plasma, they succeeded in growing her tumour cells in the laboratory. It was the first time that a human cell line had survived outside the body. Read more

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