The Death of Henrietta Lacks and the Use of Her Cells for Scientific Researches

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Henrietta Lacks, home of the world’s first immortal cells, died on October 4, 1951, at 12:15 am in John Hopkins Hospital. After her death, while Henrietta’s body was in the “colored” freezer, Dr. Gey wanted her doctors to do an autopsy to get more samples from her. Her husband, David Lacks, had to give permission for it first, at first, he said no but after a cousin talked to him about it, he agreed to let them perform one. The doctors told him that doing so might help out his children in a later time.

Since they were having a funeral, David wanted her to be presentable, so, they were only able to do a partial autopsy. I think that it is great that he allowed them to do this because it might eventually help out one of her family members if they get cancer like she did. Mary, Gey’s assistant, stood by during this process to collect samples of various parts of her body.

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Henrietta’s death was caused by terminal uremia, this is blood poisoning from the buildup of toxins normally flushed out of the body through urination.

Her body was transported by train from Baltimore to Clover the local undertaker in Clover picked her up in the coffin and drove to Lacks Town, Family members watched from their porches as he passed through. Henrietta‘s sister, Gladys, and cousin, Sadie, dolled her up for the viewing Cliff and Fred, Henrietta’s cousins, dug up a grave for her in the family graveyard next to her mother’s.

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All her children, but Elsie (who was still in Crownsville and did not know her mother died), attended the funeralt Henrietta’s family knew she was trying to tell them something when terrible weather swept through Lacks Town during her service, After Henrietta’s death everything dealing with her cells started developing more and more. A HeLa factory, where trillions of HeLa cells that would be produced each week, was being planned out to stop the disease of polio.

This plan began after Jonas Salk developed the world’s first polio vaccine. Even though this was a big accomplishment in the 19505, he could not give it to people until he tested it to make sure it actually worked, In order to test it, cell culturing had to be bigger than what it was. Unlike regular cells, HeLa cells did not need to be grown just on a glass surface, they were not limited by space, and they could divide until they ran out of culture medium. The more medium there was, the more HeLa cells grew later, Gey and one of his colleagues infected HeLa cells with poliovirus and found out that they were in fact susceptible to the virus. This solved the mass—production problem and made it possible to test the vaccine before giving it to children I think that it is amazing how the scientists were able to test out the vaccine on the cells first before giving it to the children. If they would have given it to the children first there could have been an even bigger outbreak of the virus than there already was.

After this breakthrough happened, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies began using HeLa cells instead of animals to test out new products. They were used to test the effects of certain drugs, vitamins, viruses, and diseases, 1 think that testing out new products on the cells instead of animals was a much better solution to figuring out if the products caused cell damage.  In 1953, the Minneapolis Star was the first publication to “name“ the woman HeLa cells came from the only problem was that the reporter put her name as Henrietta Lakes instead of Henrietta Lacks. Even though it was wrong, it was still a lot closer than what some others called her, like Helen Lane or Helen Larson if the real name of the woman behind the cells would have been released to the public, it could have changed her families lives the Lacks’ would have known that their wife and mother‘s cells were still alive even though she was not.

They also would have learned that her cells were bought, sold, and used in research without any of their permission and that they were receiving no money from it. Even though not releasing her real name helped out with her family’s privacy, I still think that the reporters should not have released a name unless they were 100% sure that was the real name. After Henrietta’s funeral, family from all over went to their house. One of the cousins ended up by bringing tuberculosis along with them and gave it to three of Henrietta‘s children Lawrence, Henrietta’s oldest son, dropped out of school to be able to take care of his brothers and sister. Because he wanted to get out of the house every once in a while, and go to pool halls, he got a voter’s registration card that said he was 18 but he was really only 16. He ended up by getting drafted in the Korean War at only 16 because of this.

Because there was no one to take care of the children Ethel (someone who hated Henrietta) and her husband, Galen, moved into the house because they wanted to “help with the children.” Ethel and Galen did not treat the children respect. They grew up hungry because they were only allowed one cold biscuit in the morning that had to last them until dinner time. Ethel put locks on the fridge and cabinets so that the children would not get into them to take any more food than what they were allowed most of the time, the kids would get beaten for no reason Joe grew into a very unhappy person because of that and Deborah became scared for her life because Galen wanted sexual relations with her. I think that it is sad that they starved because of some strange woman living in their home that thought they were bad children. They should not have gotten beaten either. It is because of Ethel and Galen that the kids became scared for their lives those kids did not deserve thatt eventually the kids were able to move in with Lawrence and his girlfriend, Bobbette, because they were tired of seeing the kids treated that way.

According to Henrietta’s cousin, Cliff, who was more like a brother to her, they have white descendants. The Lacks name actually comes from a white man named Albert Lacks, Henrietta’s maternal great-grandfather Henrietta’s paternal great—grandfather took his slave owner’s last name which was Pleasants, but he changed it to Pleasant without the s. Before he was freed from slavery, he had a daughter named Henrietta Pleasant I believe that Henrietta Lacks was named after her great-aunt, Henrietta Pleasant. Henrietta’s cells were able to do some amazing things to help out researchers and scientists. By using a technique that HeLa helped develop, scientists could grow corneas. They did this by taking a sample of someone’s cornea to grow it in culture, and transplant it into someone else’s eye to help with blindness. The cells also went into space on one of the first space missions in order for researchers to stttdy the effects of outer space on cells and how or if the cells would develop in zero gravity.

Noncancerous cells were able to grow normally while in orbit, but HeLa cells divided faster and were more powerful than ever. Scientists realized that once cells growing in culture became cancerous, they all started behaving a like. Before, they were all producing different proteins and enzymes, but now they statted to produce exactly the same ones. A man named Lewis Coriell came up with a solution as to why the cells transformed in such a way. He said that it was not because they were malignant, but because they were contaminated by something, because all the cells were behaving identically to the HeLa cells (cancerous), he came up with the idea that HeLa was the contaminant. In the year 1966, Stanley Gattler said at the Second Decennial Review Conference on Cell Tissue and Organ Culture, in front of George Gey, that he found a “technical problem” in their research.

Eighteen of the most commonly used cttltures all contained a rare genetic marker, glucose-G-phosphate dehydrogenase—A (GPD~A), which was mostly found in African Americans. Scientists found out that HeLa cells were not like any regular cells, they could float through air on dust particles, travel on unwashed hands, on lab coats, or even through vents. Ifjust one of Henrietta’s cells landed with other regular cells, it contaminated the whole dish, It fascinates me how even though l-leLa cells were cancerous and became a contaminant, scientists were still able to find a way to use them for research and to help out the rest of humankind. The first human-animal hybrids were made with HeLa cells and mouse cells, which contained equal amounts of DNA from both cells. Scientists did not do this just to say that they were able to, they did it in order to study what genes do and how they work. Over time, the hybrids lost their human chromosomes, this is how mapping human genes came about because they were able to see which genetic traits disappeared when the human chromosomes didi.

These hybrids were able to prove that it was possible for DNA from two different species to coexist inside a cell without any rejections between them I think that it is amazing how the scientists were able to create hybrids, not just to show off, but to help out the human race learn more about genesi.  After Dr, George Gey’s death, Howard Jones wrote an article about the history of HeLa cells as a tribute to him when Jones was looking through Henrietta‘s medical records and pictures of her biopsy, he noticed something off about her diagnosis. The original pathologist misdiagnosed her tumor as epidermoid carcinoma. The real diagnosis was “a very aggressive adenocarcinoma of the cervix.” This means that the tumor originally came from glandular tissue in her cervix and not the epithelial tissue. Even though it was misdiagnosed, that still would not have changed the way she was going to be treated, these types of cancers are treated the exact same way even though one is more aggressive than the other.

The only thing that the new diagnosis could help was to explain why the cancer spread so fast throughout her body, in Jones‘ article, along with other reporters, they set the record straight about Henrietta‘s real name, I think that’s just what she deserved, even though it got rid of her family‘s privacy. I agree with how Henrietta’s family feels about everything dealing with her cells. They all think very negative of them because none of the doctors, including Dr. Gey, let them know anything about what was going on with the cells John Hopkins Hospital claimed that they just gave the cells away instead of selling them and that Henrietta donated the cells.

They lied because they made millions off of them, took them without asking anyone, and did not even worry about giving money to her family who was living in poverty. Her family felt, and I am sure still feels, like none of the doctors cared about her or them the doctors could have let her family know everything because they knew how to contact them but instead they chose to be selfish and not do that to keep all of the money to themselves. By continuing to read this bookI am learning more about cells, how hospitals work like they do not care about their patients, and that so many people can still get Henrietta‘s name wrong even after her real name has been published multiple times Hopefully, one day someone will get it right to give her “the fame she so richly deserves”.

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The Death of Henrietta Lacks and the Use of Her Cells for Scientific Researches. (2023, Feb 21). Retrieved from

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