Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks

Infobox Person
name = Henrietta Lacks

image_size = 250px
caption = Henrietta Lacks circa 1945–1950
birth_date = birth date|mf=yes|1920|8|18|mf=y (?)
birth_place = Roanoke, Virginia
death_date = death date and age|mf=yes|1951|10|4|1920|8|8|mf=y
death_place = Baltimore, Maryland
occupation = Housewife
spouse = David Lacks I (1915–2002)
parents = Eliza (1886–1924) and John Randall Pleasant I (1881–1969)
children = Deborah Lacks Pullum, David Lacks II, Lawrence Lacks, and Zakariyya Lacks

Henrietta Lacks (August 18 (?), 1920 – October 4, 1951) was the involuntary (and likely unknowing) donor of cells from her cancerous tumor, which were cultured by George Otto Gey to create an immortal cell line for medical research. This is now known as the HeLa cell line.

Early life

She was born as Henrietta Pleasant on August 18 (?), 1920 in Roanoke, Virginia to Eliza (1886–1924) [Eliza was born on July 12, 1886 and she died on October 28, 1924 according to her tombstone.] and John Randall Pleasant I (1881–1969). [John Randall Pleasant I was born on March 2, 1881 and he died in January 1969 in Saxe, Charlotte County, Virginia according to the Social Security Death Index] [] [Eliza and John had married in 1906, and Henrietta's siblings included: Edith (1905-?); Edna (1906-?); John Randall II (1909-?); Charles (1912-1955); Viola (1914-?); Alleys (1916-?); Lawrence (1918-?); Gladys (c1918-?); Henry (1922-?); Felicia (1923-?); and Georgia (1929-?) according to the 1930 U.S. Census] Eliza died giving birth to her tenth child in 1924. Sometime after his wife's death, John Pleasant took the children back to where their relatives on their mother's side lived, and where they were raised. John worked as a brakeman on the railroad. [1930 U.S. Census ]

Later life

Henrietta Pleasant married David Lacks I (1915–2002) in Halifax County, Virginia. After convincing David to go north to search for work, Henrietta followed in 1943, with her children. David found work at the Sparrow's Point shipyards and found a house for them on New Pittsburgh Avenue in Turners Station, now a part of Dundalk, Baltimore County, Maryland. This community was one of the largest and one of the youngest, if not the youngest, of the approximately fifty historically African American communities in the region.

The couple had five children: Deborah Lacks (born 1948), who married a Pullum; David Lacks II; Lawrence Lacks; Zakariyya Lacks; and another daughter. Henrietta's last child was born at Johns Hopkins Hospital in November 1950.

On February 1, 1951, just days after a march for a cure for polio in New York City, according to Michael Rogers of the Detroit Free Press and Rolling Stone Magazine, Henrietta Lacks visited Johns Hopkins Hospital because of a vaginal discharge. That day, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She was treated but died on October 4, 1951 at the age of thirty-one. Mrs. Lacks was buried without a tombstone in a family cemetery in Lackstown.

Lackstown is located in the city of Clover in Halifax County, Virginia. Lackstown is the name of the land that has been held by the Lacks' family since they received it from the family whom they were slaves and descendants of. "Lax" was at first the name of this family, which later used "Lacks". Henrietta Lacks' mother has the only tombstone of the five graves in the family cemetery in Lackstown.cite web |url=http://www.jhu.edu/%7ejhumag/0400web/01.html | author=Rebecca Skloot |title=Henrietta's Dance |accessdate=2007-02-14 |publisher=Johns Hopkins University | quote = Not long before her death, Henrietta Lacks danced. As the film rolled, her long thin face teased the camera, flashing a seductive grin as she moved, her eyes locked on the lens. She tilted her head back and raised her hands, waving them softly in the air before letting them fall to smooth her curlers. Then the film went blank. |year=2000] [cite news |first=Van |last=Smith |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=The Life, Death, and Life After Death of Henrietta Lacks, Unwitting Heroine of Modern Medical Science. |url=http://www.citypaper.com/news/story.asp?id=3426 |quote=On February 1, 1951, Henrietta Lacks -- mother of five, native of rural southern Virginia, resident of the Turner Station neighborhood in Dundalk -- went to Johns Hopkins Hospital with a worrisome symptom: spotting on her underwear. She was quickly diagnosed with cervical cancer. Eight months later, despite surgery and radiation treatment, the Sparrows Point shipyard worker's wife died at age 31 as she lay in the hospital's segregated ward for blacks. |publisher=Baltimore City Paper |date=April 17, 2002 |accessdate=2007-08-21 ]


Henrietta Lacks has been recognized as an unintentional contributor to science, research, medicine and public health. Her contributions, which began almost immediately after her February 1, 1951 trip to Johns Hopkins Hospital, continue until today. According to reporter Michael Rogers, her visit and the subsequent development of HeLa by a researcher at the hospital, helped answer the demands of 10,000 who marched for a cure to polio just a few days before. By 1954 HeLa was used by Jonas Salk to develop a vaccine for polio. As stated by reporter Van Smith in 2002 a "demand" for HeLa "quickly rose ... the cells were put into mass production and traveled around the globe--even into space, on an unmanned satellite to determine whether human tissues could survive zero gravity".

Reporter Smith continued, "In the half-century since Henrietta Lacks' death, her ... cells ... have continually been used for research into cancer, AIDS, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, gene mapping, and countless other scientific pursuits". HeLa was used to test human sensitivity to tape, glue cosmetics, and many other products.

In 1996 Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, and the mayor of Atlanta recognized the late Henrietta Lacks' family for her posthumous contributions and for their sacrifices. Her life is commemorated annually by Turners Station. A Congressional resolution in her honor was presented by Robert Ehrlich following this event.. [cite web |url=http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?r105:2:./temp/~r105Rgz1bD:: |title=In memory of Henrietta Lacks |accessdate=2007-02-14 |author=Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr |work= ]

In 1998, "Modern Times: The Way of All Flesh", the documentary on Mrs. Lacks and HeLa directed by Adam Curtis, won the Best Science and Nature Documentary at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Immediately following this film's airing in 1997, an article on HeLa, Mrs. Lacks, and her family was published by reporter Jacques Kelly in the Baltimore Sun. News on Mrs. Lacks and on HeLa has been published throughout the world. The Lacks family was also honored at the Smithsonian Institution. In 2001 it was announced that the National Foundation for Cancer Research would be honoring "the late Henrietta Lacks for the contributions made to cancer research and modern medicine" on September 14th. Because of the events of September 11, 2001 the date for honoring her was changed.

The annual events usually continue to bring the Turners Station and the Dundalk community out to commemorate Mrs. Lacks and her family, their contributions and sacrifices as well as those like Mrs. Mary Kubicek, the laboratory assistant who discovered that the HeLa cells lived outside the body rather than died like so many cells had done during Dr. Gey's and his nurse wife, Mrs. Margaret Gey's over twenty years of attempts to grow human cells outside of the human body.

"Helacyton gartleri"

One biologist, Leigh Van Valen, has written that Lacks' cancer cells have evolved into a self-replicating, single-cell life-form and has proposed HeLa cells be given the new species name of "Helacyton gartleri". The cells are a genetic chimera of human papillomavirus 18 (HPV18) and human cervical cells and now have a distinct, stable, non-human chromosome number. [Leigh Van Valen and Virginia C. Maiorana (1991): HeLa, a new microbial species. "Evolutionary Theory" 10:71-74] His 1991 suggestion has not been followed, nor been widely noted. With near unanimity, evolutionary scientists and biologists hold that a chimeric human cell line is not a distinct species, and that tumorigenesis is not an evolutionary process.Fact|date=July 2007

Further reading

*"Modern Times: The Way of All Flesh"; (1997) BBC documentary on Henrietta Lacks, directed by Adam Curtis
*Michael Gold, [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A0DE3DA1638F936A25755C0A960948260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=print "A Conspiracy of Cells"] , 1986, State University of New York Press
*Rebecca Skloot, 2007, "HeLa: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks"
*Rebecca Skloot, [Henrietta's Dance, Hopkins Magazine: http://www.jhu.edu/~jhumag/0400web/01.html]
*Rebecca Skloot, Cells That Save Lives are a Mother's Legacy, New York Times: [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E01EED9153BF934A25752C1A9679C8B63&scp=1&sq=cells+that+save+lives+are+a+mother%27s+legacy&st=nyt, New York Times]
*Hannah Landecker 2000 Immortality, In Vitro. A History of the HeLa Cell Line. In Brodwin, Paul E., ed.: Biotechnology and Culture. Bodies, Anxieties, Ethics. Bloomington/Indianapolis, 53-72, ISBN 0-253-21428-9
*Hannah Landecker, 1999, "Between Beneficence and Chattel: The Human Biological in Law and Science," Science in Context, 203-225.
*Hannah Landecker, 2007, Culturing Life: How Cells Became Technologies. HeLa is the title of the fourth chapter.
*Russell Brown and James H M Henderson, 1983, The Mass Production and Distribution of HeLa Cells at Tuskegee Institute, 1953-1955. J Hist Med allied Sci 38(4):415-43
*Sources on Mrs. Lacks and HeLa [ [http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/search?session_query_ref=rbs.queryref_1193533559974&COLLECTIONS=hw1&JC=sci&FULLTEXT=%28National+AND+Cancer+AND+Institute+AND+%2C+AND+Henrietta+AND+Lacks%29&FULLTEXTFIELD=lemcontent&RESOURCETYPE=HWCIT&ABSTRACTFIELD=lemhwcompabstract&TITLEFIELD=lemhwcomptitle Sources on Mrs. Lacks and HeLa] ]


NAME=Lacks, Henrietta
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Pleasant, Henrietta
DATE OF BIRTH= August 18, 1920
DATE OF DEATH=October 4, 1951
PLACE OF DEATH=Johns Hopkins University Hospital

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