Henrietta Lacks circa 1945–1951
(1920-08-01)August 1, 1920
|Died||October 4, 1951(1951-10-04) (aged 31)|
|Monuments||Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School; historical marker at Clover, Virginia|
|Height||around 5 ft tall|
|Spouse(s)||David Lacks (1941–1951; her death)|
David "Sonny" Lacks, Jr.
Deborah Lacks Pullum
Zakariyya Bari Abdul Rahman (born Joseph Lacks)
|Parent(s)||Eliza (1886–1924) and John Randall Pleasant I (1881–1969)|
Henrietta Lacks (born Loretta Pleasant; August 1, 1920 – October 4, 1951) was an African American woman who was the progenitor of the HeLa cell line, one of the most important cell lines in medical research ever discovered.[a] She was the unwitting donor of these cells from a cancerous tumor biopsied during treatment for her cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. in 1951. These cells were then cultured by George Otto Gey to create the cell line known as HeLa, a line which is still used for medical research.
The descendant of slaves and their white masters, Henrietta grew up in rural Virginia. After giving birth to two of their children, she married her cousin David "Day" Lacks. In 1941 the young family moved to Turner Station in Baltimore County, Maryland so Day could work in Bethlehem Steel at Sparrows Point. After Henrietta had given birth to their fifth child she was diagnosed with cancer. Tissue samples from her tumors were taken during treatment and these samples were then subsequently cultured into the HeLa cell line.
Even though some information about the origins of HeLa's immortalized cell lines was known to researchers after 1970, the Lacks family was not made aware of the lines' existence until 1975. In the intervening years, with knowledge of the cell lines' genetic provenance becoming public, the usage of the cells for medical research and for commercial purposes continues to raise concerns about privacy and patients' rights.