The Immortal Reach of Henrietta Lacks

Multiphoton fluorescence image of cultured HeLa cells. (Photo: National Institutes of Health/Public Domain)

Deborah Lacks grew up without her mother, who died when she was only 2 years old. Her longing for details about her mother’s life is a key aspect of the new HBO film The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, with Oprah Winfrey as co-star and an executive producer.

Henrietta Lacks’ life was cut short at age 31 after a debilitating bout with cervical cancer. However, her cells have lived on as a medical gift that keeps on giving — without her knowledge or consent.

The film, adapted from the best-selling book of the same name, depicts the multiplier effect of Lacks’ cells on her family, other African Americans, science, medical ethics and the birth of the multi-billion-dollar biotech industry.

Click here to read more about this effect as well as the impact of the Henrietta Lacks’ case and the Tuskegee syphilis experiment on African-American participation in clinical research along with issues of privacy and informed consent.

Credit: Family photo of Henrietta Lacks