The Bigger Picture – Episode 9: Henrietta Lacks’ Immortal Legacy

When Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951, she had no idea that her cells would be used soon after her death later that year to bring about monumental medical discoveries. But that’s exactly what happened when her cells were found to be more durable than others and indefinitely multipliable, leading to the development of a new cell line called HeLa, which would be used by scientists from around the world.

It wasn’t until decades later that the identity behind these cells would be revealed, and Henrietta’s family found themselves at the center of a national interest in both their genetics and the issues of consent and privacy surrounding extraction and usage of a patient’s cells for research. In 2010, her story was turned into a bestselling book.

On this week’s Bigger Picture, we talk about this incredible story that has allowed us to experience great biomedical breakthroughs.