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Henrietta Lacks
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Oddity
    (August 1, 1920-October 4, 1951)
    Born in Roanoke, Virginia
    Birth name was Loretta Pleasant
    Died of cervical cancer
    Cells from her tumor formed the HeLa line, the first cell line not to die out in the lab after a few divisions
    Scientists have grown 20 tons of HeLa cells
    Over 11,000 patents have been obtained from research involving HeLa cells
    Subject of the book 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' by Rebecca Skloot (2010)
    She married her first cousin.
    She and her cousin had had two children (the first when she was 14) before getting married.
    She was buried in an unmarked grave.
    'HeLa' was often erroneously said to stand for Helen Lane or Helen Larson.
    HeLa cells are so durable and vigorous, that they have frequently contaminated other cell lines, screwing up research.
    HeLa cells produced a minor Cold War incident when the US and USSR exchanged cell lines as part of the 'war on cancer' and the samples given to the Soviets turned out to be contaminated with HeLa cells.
    The National Foundation for Cancer Research announced plans to honor her contributions to medicine at a September 14, 2001, ceremony, but the event was cancelled because of the 9/11 attacks.
    The cells were taken from her body without her knowledge or consent.
    Her family did not learn about the cells until two decades later, when researchers began contacting them about getting blood samples.
    Neither she nor her family received any payment for use of the cells.
    HeLa cells were critical in the devopment of the polio vaccine by Jonas Salk.
    HeLa cells have also been used for reseach in gene mapping, cancer, AIDS, and the effects of radiation and toxic substances.
    She was posthumously recognized by the Smithsonian Institution.
    She was also honored by the Moorehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, which donated funds to place a headstone on her grave.

Credit: C. Fishel


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