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Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman whose tumor cells were preserved for research in the early 1950s. These cells became the first lab-grown human cells that were naturally "immortal", not dying after a number of divisions. Thereafter, they were used for a large variety of experiments, becoming one of the most important discoveries in medical research. It is now known as the "HeLa" line, named after the first two letters of the donor's first and last names, and remains in high demand by the scientific community.
However, these cells were taken from Ms. Lacks without her knowledge or consent. Neither she nor her family was ever compensated for their use, and the Lacks family was not even aware of HeLa's existence until the mid-1970s. Since then, knowledge of its origins has spread far and wide, ensuring its legacy not only in terms of scientific advances but also in biomedical ethics and the concerns of privacy and patients' rights.
The Medicine & the Muse, Stanford Storytelling Project, and Stanford Continuing Studies will be hosting a discussion and Q&A session with Rebecca Skloot, author of the best-selling The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and members of the Lacks family about how these issues have impacted them personally, as we consider how they have impacted us and our technology-driven society as a whole. This is the pre-event for the Health Humanities Consortium Conference: Frankenstein@200 beginning the next day.