What did George Gey do in the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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George Gey was the scientist who used Henrietta’s cells to create HeLa at John  Hopkins Univeristy.

George Gey was given the cells harvested by Dr. Wharton.  His job was to study cancer cells.  Richard Wesley TeLinde was trying to develop ways of treating cervical cancer, and asked for Gey’s help. The samples were taken to his lab by a resident, as always.

Gey still got excited at moments like this, but everyone else in his lab saw Henrietta’s sample as something tedious—the latest of what felt like countless samples that scientists and lab technicians had been trying and failing to grow for years. (ch 3, p. 33)

According to Skloot, most who worked on the project assumed that Henrietta’s cells would die “just like all the others.”  Gey was working on a skeleton budget, having to reuse equipment because he could not afford to use everything new and sterile.  Yet he stuck to it, and eventually was able to create the immortal cell line in 1951.  Ironically, he later died of cancer himself.

Like most scientists on the project, Gey gave little thought to whether permission or credit was given to the patients whose cells he used.  It never ocurred to him to give her any more credit than naming the cells HeLa, or that her cells or what they did with them might still belong to her.

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