Henrietta Lacks

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Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks circa 1945–1950
Born August 18, 1920(1920-08-18) (?)
Roanoke, Virginia
Died October 4, 1951 (aged 31)
Baltimore, Maryland
Occupation Housewife
Spouse(s) David Lacks I (1915–2002)
Children Deborah Lacks Pullum, David Lacks II, Lawrence Lacks, and Zakariyya Lacks
Parents Eliza (1886–1924) and John Randall Pleasant I (1881–1969)

Henrietta Lacks (August 18 (?), 1920 – October 4, 1951) was the involuntary 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.


[edit] Early life

She was born as Henrietta Pleasant on August 18 (?), 1920 in Roanoke, Virginia to Eliza (1886–1924)[1] and John Randall Pleasant I (1881–1969).[2][3][4] 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.[5]

[edit] 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 state of Maryland.

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.[6][7]

[edit] Legacy

Henrietta Lacks' HeLa cells have been recognized as an important ongoing resource to science, research, medicine and public health. According to reporter Michael Rogers, 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 soon after the first commemoration of her, her family, and cells named HeLa. [8]

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. Since the 1950s news on Mrs. Lacks and on HeLa has been and continues to be published throughout the world in newspapers, magazines, and in scientific journals, books, and other academic publications. In the 1990s the Dundalk Eagle published the first article on her in a newspaper in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, and it continues to announce upcoming local commemorative activities. 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 14. 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 sacrifices, and HeLa's contributions to science, medicine, and public health. Events in the Turner Station's community also commemorate the contributions of others including Mrs. Mary Kubicek, the laboratory assistant who discovered that HeLa cells lived outside the body, as well Dr. Gey and his nurse wife, Mrs. Margaret Gey, who together after over twenty years of attempts were eventually able to grow human cells outside of the body.

[edit] Further reading

  • Modern Times: The Way of All Flesh; (1997) BBC documentary on Henrietta Lacks, directed by Adam Curtis
  • Michael Gold, A Conspiracy of Cells, 1986, State University of New York Press
  • Rebecca Skloot, HeLa: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, forthcoming from Crown/Random House early Spring 2010
  • Rebecca Skloot, Henrietta's Dance, Hopkins Magazine:
  • Rebecca Skloot, Cells That Save Lives are a Mother's Legacy, New York Times: 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

[edit] References

  1. ^ Eliza was born on July 12, 1886 and she died on October 28, 1924 according to her tombstone.
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ World War I draft card of John Randall Pleasant I (1881-1969)
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ 1930 U.S. Census
  6. ^ Rebecca Skloot (2000). "Henrietta's Dance". Johns Hopkins University. http://www.jhu.edu/%7ejhumag/0400web/01.html. Retrieved on 2007-02-14. "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." 
  7. ^ Smith, Van (April 17, 2002). "The Life, Death, and Life After Death of Henrietta Lacks, Unwitting Heroine of Modern Medical Science.". Baltimore City Paper. http://www.citypaper.com/news/story.asp?id=3426. Retrieved on 2007-08-21. "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." 
  8. ^ Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. "In memory of Henrietta Lacks". http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?r105:2:./temp/~r105Rgz1bD::. Retrieved on 2007-02-14. 

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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