"When I tell people the story of Henrietta Lacks and her cells, their first question is usually Wasn't it illegal for doctors to take Henrietta's cells without her knowledge? Don't doctors have to tell you when they use your cells in research? The answer is no - not in 1951, and not in 2009, when this book when to press."
In 1966 a geneticist dropped the "HeLa bomb", announcing that much of the world's cell cultures had been contaminated by HeLa cells. Henrietta's cells could easily transfer from one culture to the next, floating in the air on dust particles, or via unwashed hands. "All those years researchers thought they were creating a library of human tissues, they'd probably been just growing and regrowing HeLa."
To assist in testing the polio vaccine, a HeLa Distribution Center was established at the Tuskegee Institute, where "black scientists and technicians, many of them women, used cells from a black woman to help save the lives of millions of Americans, most of them white. And they did so on the same campus - and at the very same time - that state officials were conducting the infamous Tuskegee syphilis studies.
"Though no one had told Henrietta that TeLinde was collecting samples or asked if she wanted to be a donor" ... the surgeon "shaved two dime-sized pieces of tissue from Henrietta's cervix: one from her tumor, and one from the healthy cervical tissue nearby." The cells from the tumor "became the first immortal human cells ever grown in a laboratory." HeLa cells.