In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a Black mother of five who was dying of cervical cancer, went to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for treatment.
Without her knowledge or consent, doctors removed a sample of cells from the tumor in her cervix. They gave the sample to a researcher at Johns Hopkins University who was trying to find cells that would survive indefinitely so researchers could experiment on them.
The invasive procedure led to a world-changing discovery: The cells thrived and multiplied in the laboratory, something no human cells had done before. They were reproduced billions of times, contributed to nearly 75,000 studies and helped pave the way for the HPV vaccine, medications used to help patients with H.I.V. and AIDS and, recently, the development of Covid-19 vaccines.