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Woman of the Week: Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks was a poor black tobacco farmer born in 1920 who became ill with cervical cancer when she was in her thirties. In 1951, her cells were taken from her cervix without her knowledge. On October 4th, 1951, Henrietta passed away from late stage cervical cancer.

These cells are now called HeLa, the most important cell line ever discovered. HeLa cells have contributed to a vast number of scientific discoveries including the development of the polio vaccine, cloning, and gene mapping.

Nonetheless, her family endured a devastating and arduous journey in learning about Henrietta and her cells- for a long time the family had no knowledge of Henrietta’s disease, and no knowledge of the presence of these cells and the contributions that they made to science. Therefore, we remember and devote this week to Henrietta Lacks and her family.

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