Henrietta Lacks didn’t know that her visit to John Hopkins Hospital in Maryland USA was going to change medical history when she visited the place in 1951.
A poor African-American, Henrietta Lacks paid a visit to the hospital (being one of the few ones willing to treat black patients then) and complained about some intermittent bleedings. According to her, she was noticing random pain and bleedings within her groin area.
After one of the gynaecologists on duty examined her, a massive threatening tumour was discovered on her cervix. This made them subject her to radium treatment to help cure her of it. Radium was the widely accepted means of treating cervical cancer as it is at the time.
While the treatment was going on, a sample of her cancer cells were taken for more analysis and study. It was taken to Dr George Gey, a cancer researcher who collects cancer cells from the hospital for more examination and further research. In the past, each of the cells collected by Dr Gey died as soon as they get to his laboratory. However, when Henrietta Lacks’ cancer cells were taken to his lab, it didn’t die like the others before it. Instead, the cells multiplied every 24hrs.
This turned out to be a new medical breakthrough in itself. It meant that if used correctly, the cancer cells which is alive can infinitely multiply.
The cells were subsequently tested on polio and survived the test unlike other tests in the past. The exciting result from the tests allowed scientists and doctors to research heavily on her cells, resulting in the discovery of the vaccine for Polio, the dreaded child killer disease.
However, it didn’t stop at polio alone. The cell was also notably used to create the very first original hybrid human-animal, human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, and better understanding of understanding of human cells in general. By helping discover the vaccines for both polio and human papilloma virus, millions of lives were spared and saved worldwide.
Unfortunately though, Henrietta Lacks died a few weeks after her treatment and never got to witness what her cells did and continues to do for the world. At the moment, her cells is still being continually grown (reports of up to 50 million metric tons) to help find cures to a lot of diseases plaguing mankind like cancer, ebola and typhoid.