HeLa cells: The most influential and controversial discovery in medicine

Henrietta Lacks and the incredible story of HeLa cells

Stars Insider

08/02/23 | StarsInsider


Discoveries that change the face of medicine overnight come along only once in a generation. The medical professionals behind these life-changing and lifesaving developments are almost always given their due praise and fanfare as saviors of humanity, true and just egalitarians dedicated to the greater good. But while that is often true, it is also true that their discoveries were often built on the backs of other members of society who may have been exploited, abused, or subjected to unethical medical practices, and have never received their own recognition or compensation. The most infamous story of this occurrence is the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were taken without her knowledge and consent.

Today, Henrietta Lacks' cells are known as HeLa cells, and continually prove to be one of the most important discoveries in the history of medicine. HeLa cells have been instrumental in the eradication of polio, lifesaving cancer research, and even the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. But neither Henrietta Lacks nor her surviving family have ever gotten their due.

Intrigued? Read on to learn more about the fascinating story of medicine's greatest unsung hero.

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