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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

“HeLa” Cells – An Important Story of History, Science and Racial Barriers

A back story. Yesterday’s post covered an important new research arising from work with "HeLa" cells. The new work brings to mind an important book on medical research history, money and racial barriers – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The well told story was investigated and written by Rebecca Skloot – she provides a useful web site related to the book and story. In short, the book tells the story of a black woman’s awful journey through a cervical cancer, and her treatment at the then-segregated Johns Hopkins hospital. More of the story goes to myriad later events as Mrs. Lack’s cell line became a global standard, but with much misunderstanding and failure to communicate as to how that happened and who reaped financial rewards from her suffering. Mrs. Lack’s cancer ultimately became the first immortal line of cells available for study, and so HeLa cell lines are ubiquitous today in research. Oprah Winfrey is overseeing creation of a cable tv movie based on the book, and Ms. Skloot penned a summary for Ms. Winfrey’s web site.

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