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So easy, in fact, that one scientist has estimated that if you could collect all of the cells descended from that first sample on a scale, the total would weigh 50 million metric tons. A sample of her cancer cells taken during an early examination was handed over to a Hopkins researcher, George Gey, who probably never met Lacks herself.
Unlike the vast majority of human cells, which almost always die soon after being removed from the body, Lacks’ turned out to be astonishingly robust and easy to culture.

They contain an enzyme that prevents them from automatically degenerating like normal cells, rendering them immortal, capable of dividing and multiplying seemingly forever. HeLa has provided countless experimenters with the once-rare raw materials needed to test drugs and procedures that have saved lives and transformed medicine.But Lacks never knew her cells had been taken by Gey or why. Then, in the ’60s, a scientist discovered that most of the other cell lines being cultivated throughout the world had been contaminated by HeLa cells, and had probably been taken over by them.

Hopkins researchers tracked down the Lackses to get the blood samples they needed to detect that contamination; the family thought they were being tested for the terrifying disease that had killed Henrietta.

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