Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
The True Story of the HeLa Immortal Cell Line
About Henrietta Lacks
Summary of Her Story (as told by Rebecca Skloot in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks)
Henrietta's cancer spread very rapidly throughout her body, and it became inoperable. She kept her illness a secret from most people until near the end of her life. Despite the fact that Johns Hopkins was one of the few hospitals that treated black patients, it did not give them the best care possible. Henrietta was placed in the "colored" ward of the hospital, her samples labelled "colored" during her final visit to the hospital, and when she died, her body was put in the "colored" freezer in the hospital morgue.
"The official cause of Henrietta’s death was terminal uremia: blood poisoning from the
buildup of toxins normally flushed out of the body in urine. The tumors had completely
blocked her urethra, leaving her doctors unable to pass a catheter into her bladder to empty it."
Biotechnology -- Discovery of the HeLa Line of Immortal Cells
HeLa is the most commonly used cell line in the world, as it is the most resilient. The HeLa line was the first to survive in vitro for a long period of time. The cells are easy to grow, store, and ship, which is just another facet of their usability and popularity. Cancerous cells are typically durable, and Henrietta's were even more so than usual. Henrietta had some venereal diseases, which may have been why her cells were immune to programmed cell death (when cells die after a couple of divisions). Because HeLa cells are so hardy, they can contaminate other cell samples as well, ruining them for experimental use, but they are mostly very useful.