How Can One Person’s Cells Do Everything?

In class last week, we spent a great portion of it discussing Henrietta Lacks and her “contribution” to science and research in the medical field. Now before I start discussing things about what her cells actually provided, I want to start off by saying I don’t think the way that John Hopkins obtained her cells were ethical. Now, most people would argue that the end outweighs the means, and while I would most likely end up agreeing, I feel that restitution would only be fair for the children of Henrietta. While a ruling has finally been given that has provided the Lacks family with closure, they still weren’t provided with any financial compensation after all the profits made. (

After having read the biography written about her as well as doing some research of my own, I became amazed at how many things that have occurred simply due to one woman’s cells. One of the most amazing things is that her cells are still the one and only cells to have survived in culture this long. How is it possible that in all the time since these cells were found, NOT ONE OTHER PERSON has been able to replicate the cell replication and survivability of the HeLa cells. Her cells alone were the reason for polio to receive a vaccine. The things that one person’s cells have accomplished are unbelievable.

Her cells have continued to grow since they were initially taken without her consent. These cells are being use for profit nowadays, and that is something that really bothers me. Anyone can currently go online and order a set of HeLa cells and use them for whatever they want to do. I am completely against this. While I do understand that every company is out to make a profit, this king of thing really bothers me because Henrietta never gets to see a cut of the money. Neither does her family which is completely unacceptable. I can simply google Buy HeLa cells and I get a link which allows me to place an order right away. (

While it is amazing that we have had all the technological advances we have had in the last 30 years, it is crazy that nothing has allowed us to give up the use of HeLa cells. With all the simulation technology and the new virtual and synthetic drug makeups, HeLa cells are still one of the only kinds of cells of their own kind. Even more recently, they have slowly started using HeLa cells to get closer and closer to tumor treatments. As time passes, cancer treatment has only gotten better from the use of these cells. It will never cease to amaze me how one single person’s cells have opened up the possibilities for multiple treatments that no other person’s cells have even come close to.



  1. I actually read this same article and found it ridiculous that the family was still not receiving financial benefits. I understand the amount of money they would be owed is too large to fully pay to the family; However, I did expect the family to start earning at least some money off of current and future research.

    I do appreciate how the family now has a say in the uses of Henrietta’s cells. This creates some equality and helps protect the family from the HeLa cells traveling to unwanted research.

  2. While I totally agree that it was unethical to take Henrietta’s cells without her permission the benefits are greater than the risks. her family should have been more informed about the process in which these cells grow. These cells were removed form her bod because they were cancerous. And as you know, cancer cells proliferate indefinitely which is why you grow tumors. This is the basis for ALL cell culturing now a days.

    I work in a research lab and we use cell cultures all of the time. Although our cultures are not as old as the HeLa cells we still use the same technique that John Hopkins uses. Also these are mice cells that have been purified and modified into a immortalized/established cell line.

    Basically these are all “cancer” cells.
    (Cancer is a bad way to describe these cells because indefinite proliferation is only one of the many hallmarks of cancer.) The only reason HeLa cells are so generalized is because they began the research and changing cell lines that have been proven to show significant results would be such a confounding factor that no other scientist would believe you.

    All in all, the cells are being used for you to get better and have better cancer treatments in the future.All of mankind should be grateful for the cells that have save countless lives.

  3. I am torn between this topic. The cells are being used for profit but on the other hand these cells have helped make tremendous advances in science and in the medical field. Looking at this issue selfishly, the HeLa cells should not be used or at least some of the profits should go back to the family, at the very least. Unselfishly, these cells have helped make vast breakthroughs that most likely would not have been found without these cells. Many lives have been saved/bettered due to these HeLa cells. I feel as though the good outweighs the bad. Yes, it is unfortunate for the family of Henrietta but it may be worth it.

  4. I agree the process of propagating the cells were not in a ethical manor. However genetic justice laws were very cloudy so it was easy to get away with many things. However over time we have been able to change these laws so family’s know what’s going to happen to there loved one. And especially if they feel ok with their cells being propagated. The family should have at least gotten some profit since it’s still technically her cells being propagated. But overall one way or another we needed to have these HeLa cells for the future of our research due to its popularity in labs.

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