(CNN)Her cells are responsible for the polio vaccine, gene mapping and in vitro fertilization to name a few. But for a long time most of the public didn’t know her contribution to modern medicine. Neither did she because her cells were harvested without her consent.
The oil-on-linen work, “Henrietta Lacks (HeLa): The Mother of Modern Medicine” will hang inside one of the main entrances of the National Portrait Gallery through November.
Lacks died in 1951 at the age of 31 from an aggressive form of cervical cancer. During her treatment, a surgeon cut cells from her cervix. Those cells became the first human cell line to reproduce outside the body. They came to be known as HeLa cells and became invaluable to medical researchers.
Little was known about Lacks’ impact on modern medicine outside the medical community until author Rebecca Skloot wrote a book about it in 2010.
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