“Oh yeah! Scientists I’ve talked to say you cannot
important HeLa cells have been.”
Yet no one in the Lacks family had been informed by Johns
Hopkins of the existence of their mother’s cells, until a researcher
called in the early 1970s wanting to test the family.
“Henrietta’s husband basically got a phone call one day,” Skloot
said, “and the way he understood it was, ‘We’ve got your wife, she’s
alive in a laboratory, we’ve been doing research on her for the last 25
years.’ The only cell he’d ever heard of was the kind in a prison, and
he literally thought, ‘Okay, so, they have her in a cell? They have part
of her in a cell?’”
The news left the Lacks family confused . . . and scared.
“When you look at this in the context of the family story, you know,
at 25 years after her death, not only were her cells still alive, but
there were enough of them that if you could pile them all on a scale,
they’d weigh 50 million metric tons,” Skloot said. “That’s 150 Empire
State Buildings. You know, it’s just inconceivable that that could even
be true, and it was.”
I remember mentioning this case in my 7th grade biology class. I must
have seen a report on this in Time Magazine or maybe 60 Minutes. A few
years ago I actually Googled for this story, but I must not have spelled
the name right, because I found nothing on it.