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 /  Writing Services  /  African and American Studies  /  Essay: The Story of Henrietta Lacks : Henrietta’s Cells and Their Incomparable Contribution to Research in Medicine

The Story of Henrietta Lacks : Henrietta’s Cells and Their Incomparable Contribution to Research in Medicine

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Abstract

The life of Henrietta Lacks is somewhat unique and surprising. She was a woman who had made a huge contribution to the world of medicine the benefits of which we are reaping till today. She died at a very young age however, her cells continue to live immortally in research labs all over the world. Henrietta was unaware of the contribution she had made as she was not alive to see it. Her children and husband were as well unaware of anything until some years back when doctors asked them for blood samples to do further research. A book and a film on her were the factors which gave her recognition. The book was written by Rebecca Skloot in 2010 who was a famous writer and was named “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”. It was used to make a film with the same name by HBO and was released in 2017. The reference of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” shows us about her life and her contribution to society.

Introduction

Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman whose cancer cells were used for vital medical research as they possessed the unique quality of replicating themselves in every 20 to 24 hours. Her cells were named as HeLa which were the first two letters of her name and these are still used in modern day medicine. Research on treatment for Cancer, AIDS, gene mapping and the introduction of polio vaccine was all possible due to Henrietta’s cells (Butanis,2017, n.pag). Henrietta had gone for a check-up in John Hopkins hospital as she had a feeling of a “knot” inside her womb and was diagnosed to have cancer of the cervix. She was given treatment for it however, unfortunately she died two months later. Without her knowledge, doctors took the cervical tissue from her body which had been sent to the lab for testing and started to culture it. The unique quality of her cells unlike other human cells which could not replicate and used to die soon was very useful in medical research for the physicians and scientists. The purpose of this essay is to depict how Henrietta’s cells are still ‘living’ and used in various types of research (Russian,2017, n.pag).

The Early Years of Henrietta Lacks:

Henrietta Lacks was raised in Virginia and was married to her cousin David “Day” Lacks. She had five children and it was after the birth of the fifth one that she was diagnosed with cancer. Her parents were Eliza and Johnny Pleasant. Henrietta lost her mother when she was delivering her 10th baby and since her father could not manage all the ten children, they were given away to relations. Henrietta was brought up by her grandfather. Her husband worked in tobacco farms, however later he worked in a shipyard which was suggested to him by their cousin Fred Garrett (Skloot, n.d, p.3).

The Onset Of Her Disease:

After giving birth to her fifth child, Henrietta did not feel too well and she had bleeding in her stomach with acute pain (Biography.com, Editors,2019, n.pag). She took her husband and went to the John Hopkins hospital as she felt a hard lump inside her cervix when she was bathing. They showed it first to the local doctor who surmised it was syphilis, however the report came out negative. Since John Hopkins Hospital was the only one which treated African American patients, she was referred to go there by the local doctor. The gynaecologist on duty examined her and after certain tests, he confirmed that she had cancer of the cervix (Skloot, n.d, p.2).

Using Her Cells For Research:

Henrietta’ cells were used extensively for research because of their unique quality of staying alive in laboratories. Dr. TeLinde, who was the head of the gynaecology department in John Hopkins hospital, always had the feeling that carcinoma in situ was a frightening cancer. The meaning of this cancer is that it is in a benign state and will not spread to any other place than the place in which it had originated. Dr. TeLinde removed the cervix, uterus etc of a patient who had this disease as he believed that otherwise the patient would die. He wanted to research

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