I first learned about HeLa cells as a kid in junior high. It freaked me out a little at the time, but also intrigued me. It seemed a case wherein the realities of the mundane world approached uncomfortably close to the realities of the Horror movies I ingested as part of my regular diet. How can someone be dead but a part of them still be alive decades later? That’s the stuff of vampires, innit? Or zombies? I think the fact that it was only a *part* of the woman who was still alive is what made it unsettling for me. Sorta like if your finger got cut off but remained alive. It wouldn’t have your mind, your soul. It wouldn’t be *you*, but it would, both at the same time.
Henrietta Lacks was a cancer patient who died in 1951. Cells taken from her body (without her permission) before her death are still alive today, in laboratories all over the world. The cells are deemed “immortal.” Over 50 million metric tons of them have been grown since the 50s. They are used for scientific and medical research, and among their celebrated uses they are credited with the development of the polio vaccine. They also are notorious for “invading” any other living cells with which they come in contact. Now I ask ya, how much like the set-up for a vampire flick is that?