Henrietta Lacks, a wife and mother of five from Turner Station, an African American community in Baltimore County, comes to Hopkins as a cancer patient. Cells from Ms. Lacks’ cervical tumor are cultivated in a Hopkins Laboratory by Dr. Oto Gey to create a cell line for medical research. The cells of her cancer are the first human cells discovered to thrive and multiply outside the body, seemingly forever, allowing researchers to conduct experiments previously impossible. The cells are named HeLa, the first two letters in the name Henrietta Lacks. The cells are instrumental in creating the polio vaccine. In what has become a billion-dollar industry, HeLa cells have traveled around the world and been shot into space.
October: Ms. Lacks dies and is buried by her family in an unmarked grave in Virginia, behind the house where her mother was born, on land owned by the Lacks family. The Lacks family is not then informed about the use and importance of her cultivated genetic material. In an April 2000 story by Rebecca Skloot, published in the Johns Hopkins Magazine, the author writes: “To this day, members of the Lacks family feel they've been passed over in the story of the HeLa cells. They know their mother's cells started a medical revolution and are now bought and sold around the world. They're pretty sure that someone, somewhere, has profited from their mother's death. They know that someone wasn't related to Henrietta.”
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