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A Short Animated Lesson on the Immortal Cells of Henrietta Lacks


You’ve probably heard of the name Henrietta Lacks before, but if you haven’t TED-Ed just released an animated lesson about her that you should definitely watch. The lesson by Robin Bulleri, narrated by Pen-Pen Chen, and animated by Brandon Denmake provides a brief overview of Lacks’ life, the science behind the HeLa cell, and bioethics of science in this time.

Henrietta Lacks, an African-American Woman, died of cervical cancer in the 1950s. After her death, scientists examined a part of her tumor and discovered the HeLa immortal cell line, which would survive and continue dividing when other cell lines would die off. Samples were taken and distributed without knowledge or consent from Lacks or her family. This was, Bulleri writes, “ethically problematic” and they built “careers and fortunes off of Henrietta’s cells” without her family knowing until the 1970s. Her story is one of many in the United State’s history of unethical experimentation, especially concerning race and science. The Lacks family eventually came to an agreement with the National Institutes of Health.

HeLa cells became incredibly important to innovation, helping develop a vaccine for polio, gene mapping, cancer research, and more.

(via TED-Ed)

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