Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951) was an African-American woman and a young mother of five. In 1951, vaginal bleeding made her visit the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. There she was diagnosed with an aggressive cervical cancer that eventually put an end to her life, but not her contribution to science.
Her cells are currently being used in experiments in laboratories; thus, a part of her is still alive. This HeLa cell line, with the letters coming from her first and last name, is named after her. The first to recognize the significance of her cells, compared to other samples regularly taken as biopsies from the tumors of patients, was Dr. George O. Grey. A few days after being given Henrietta Lacks’ biopsy sample, he realized that unlike typical cells that die soon after being tested in the lab, HeLa cells duplicated every 20 to 24 hours.
Since then, HeLa cells have been involved in numerous medical research, many of which have served as turning points in the history of medicine, such as the discovery of the polio vaccine.