Author: Maria Guerrero
Henrietta Lacks was a black mother of five that had cervical cancer. During times of segregation, she went to the few hospitals that treated black people: Johns Hopkins Hospital. During her treatment, the doctor collected a sample of her cells. The doctor noted that her cells were growing exponentially and did not die. The cells grew quicker than the average cancer cell. It was found out that the human papillomavirus had mutated her cells. The normal cell only has forty-six chromosomes, but Lacks’ cells contain up to ninety chromosomes. Her cells’ immortality was due to the rebuilding of the cells’ telomeres. Telomeres, found at the end of a chromosome, are the indicators of a cell’s lifespan. In a normal cell, the telomere shortens every time the cell engages in mitosis and then undergoes a self-destructive mechanism called apoptosis that occurs when a cell is no longer needed to allow development or could become a threat to the body (e.g. become cancerous).
This attracted the attention of the doctor because they are able to experiment on her cells. Lacks’ cells contributed tremendously in the medical field, such as the birth of the polio vaccine, the effects of zero gravity on cells, and cloning. In spite of these accomplishments from her cells, Henrietta Lacks died at the age of 31 in 1951. She was never made aware of what was happening and neither did her family for twenty-five years. Her cells were cultivated and distributed within the industry; yet, she and her family did not receive any compensation until recently. The circumstances were very much unfortunate, but we owe Henrietta Lacks for the accomplishments made in the healthcare field.
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