In April 2017, HBO premiered The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, starring Oprah Winfrey. But the engrossing real-life story behind the film is almost stranger than fiction. It tells how, in 1951, a doctor extracted cells from a woman named Henrietta Lacks for medical research. The immortalized cell line known as HeLa has survived ever since. Lacks's cells have been used in groundbreaking scientific research, but Lacks herself was largely unknown for decades. But her life - and the celebrated HeLa cell line - are beginning to receive attention, thanks largely to Rebecca Skloot's 2010 book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and its film adaptation.
Lacks was born in Virginia in 1920. She died of cervical cancer in 1951, just after turning 31. While her life was brief, it was eventful. Her story sparks discussion of patients' rights, privacy, and medical research, and continues to fascinate the public with its twists and turns.