Scientists Apologize for Racist Behavior Toward Henrietta Lacks
Science Finally Admits Their Critical Contribution to Racism
The Case of Henrietta Lacks
by Jerry Bergman, PhD
A set of new articles published in some of the leading science magazines are now openly admitting the major contribution science and scientists have made to racism in the past. Unfortunately, few admit the fact that the foundation of what is properly referred to today as “scientific racism” was Darwinism. The major evidence for racism was the existence of putative inferior races, specifically Blacks. This was the main evidence used to support human evolution for over a century.
Most of the new articles document the fact of racism in science and admit that, yes, many scientists were racists – because they were. I looked in vain for the reasons why scientists were racists and in the many articles I reviewed the why question was ignored. My perception is that they realize the main cause was Darwinism and, to protect their Darwinian worldview, they ignore the historical connection of Darwinism and racism. Many scientists view reality through Darwin glasses, which Professor Michael Ruse calls a religion. Understandably, they want to protect their religion at all costs and against all critics.
One can only hope that one day the science establishment will recognize the careers and lives that they have ruined, including popular professors driven to suicide, caused by their intolerable treatment of persons who rejected their Darwinian worldview. It took over a century to recognize the harm they caused racial minorities, but it will, hopefully, not take that long to recognize the harm they caused this other minority of Darwin doubters they derisively call ‘evolution deniers.’
The Henrietta Lacks Story
The 5 Nov 2020 issue of the world’s leading science journal, Nature, says under the headline, “Wealthy funder pays reparations for use of HeLa cells.” The issue reported that
Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s six-figure donation is a step towards addressing racial injustice in the sciences. A major biomedical-research organization has for the first time aimed to make financial reparation for the continuing experimental use of cells from Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman who was the source of the historic ‘HeLa’ cell line, which has been a mainstay of biological research for decades.
One who works in the medical/biochemical field is very familiar with the HeLa cell line, the oldest and most commonly used human cell line. It is used throughout the world. The line is derived from the cervical cancer cells taken on February 8, 1951, from Henrietta Lacks. The 31-year-old African-American mother of five died from cancer on October 4, 1951. The HeLa cell line is used partly because we have a great deal of published research on the traits of this cell line, thus we better understand its behavior and features then other cell types.
Cancer cells normally divide a few times and, each time they do, they accumulate mutations and consequently die before meaningful studies can be done using them. A major advantage of HeLa cells was, as long as they were fed the right nutrient mixture, Henrietta’s cells continued dividing. Evidently, her cancer did not damage the DNA repair system, thus the cells are able to repair inevitable mutations, a fact which partly accounts for their longevity.
Normal cells are programmed to eventually die after they divide a finite number of times, due to a number called the Hayflick Limit discovered in 1961 by Leonard Hayflick. He determined the cells reach their normal growth limit when they divide about 50 times. When Hayflick measured the number of telomeres at the end of chromosomes he learned that each cell division shortens the telomere length. A few telomeres are lost at each generation, and when almost all telomeres are lost, the cells began to die. In Henrietta’s case, the telomerase enzyme that adds telomere strands prevents the gradual loss of the telomere, thereby postponing cell death. The telomere genetic code is 5’…TTAGGG-3’. The five- and three-prime tells the position of the TTAGGG in the chromosome. A string of telomeres would be TTAGGG TTAGGG TTAGGG TTAGGG TTAGGG, etc., which is repeated approximately 2,500 times in humans and most other vertebrates.
The TTAGGG refers to the DNA bases, specifically T refers to thymine, A to adenosine, and G to guanine. The result is the “HeLa cells can be—and are—passed from lab to lab and grown for decades with no indication of a limit to the number of times that they can divide… they are immortal” as far as we can tell.
Henrietta’s cancer cells became the first human “cell line” to be established in culture research and an amazing 70,000 studies have now been published involving HeLa cells. Jonas Salk used them in 1954 to develop the polio vaccine, and AIDS researchers used them in the 1980s to identify and isolate the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Hundreds of chemotherapy and gene-mapping studies have used them as well. HeLa cells were also critical for the so-called “omics” revolution, from genomics to proteomics and transcriptomics.
When I was teaching at the Medical College of Ohio, our HeLa cell cultures were stored in a special room that had air pressure above the rest of the medical school. When I walked into the room, I could feel the air rushing out as I walked in, a system used to reduce the likelihood of bacteria contaminating the cells kept alive in the Petri dishes in the room.
The Process of Harvesting the Cells
Henrietta went to the cancer clinic at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in January 1951, because it was the only local hospital that treated African Americans. Her surgeon, Howard Jones, took a tissue biopsy of her cancerous womb which was passed on to cancer researcher George Otto Gey. Gey was astonished by the cell’s ability to replicate in a laboratory culture and began using them for his research. The word about their superiority soon spread, and the rest is history. The HeLa cell exploitation was widely publicized by the best-selling book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
A New Species?
To explain the HeLa cells’ amazing properties, some evolutionists claimed that “HeLa cells are evolving separately from humans, and, having a separate evolution is what a species is all about.” They even suggested the cells are a new species called Helacyton gartleri, from cyton Greek for cell and gartleri, for Stanley Gartler the man who was instrumental in discovering the traits that were important for the cell’s acceptance. Those who were not infected with Darwinism observed that this claim is ridiculous. They observed that, if you selected a random sample of Henrietta Lacks’ cells and did DNA fingerprinting on them “her DNA would match the DNA in HeLa cells.”
The discovery of telomerase has opened a new field of research which may help reverse aging, as the pioneering book by Michigan State University Professor Michael Fossel details. The challenge is we have the HeLa cells which, as far as we can tell, are immortal so if we can find out in more detail why they are immortal, we can, as Dr. Fossel points out, extend human life dramatically.
Scientific racism affected Henrietta. She, at least some of her cells, turned out to be not inferior but superior, and changed the world of medicine. Ironically, poor treatment of the family persisted until recently.
 Bergman, Jerry. 2020. “Evolutionary Textbooks Promoted Racism. ‘The Role of Biology Textbooks in Causing Racism: Why this Embarrassing History is Often Ignored’.” Creation/Evolution Headlines, September 16. https://crev.info/2020/09/evolutionary-textbooks-promoted-racism/; “Darwinians Displayed Bones of Inferior Races in Museums. ‘Displaying the bones of ‘inferior races’ in museums: The whitewashing of Darwinism may be ending’.” Creation/Evolution Headlines, September 24. https://crev.info/2020/09/darwinians-racism-bones-museums/.
 Ruse, Michael. 2017. Darwinism as Religion: What Literature Tells Us about Evolution. New York: Oxford University Press.
 Bergman, Jerry. 2021. Slaughter of the Dissidents: The Shocking Truth About Killing the Careers of Darwin Doubters, 3rd edition. Southworth, WA: Leafcutter Press; 2021. Silencing the Darwin Skeptics: The War Against Theists, 2nd edition. Southworth, WA: Leafcutter Press; 2021. Censoring the Darwin Skeptics: How Belief in Evolution is Enforced by Eliminating Dissidents, 2nd edition. Southworth, WA: Leafcutter Press.
 Witze, Alexandra. 2020. “Wealthy funder pays reparations for use of HeLa cells.” Nature 587:20-21, November 5.
 British Society for Immunology. 1951. “HeLa cells.” https://www.immunology.org/hela-cells-1951
 Bardeguez, Okuda K., et al. 2002. Telomere length in the newborn. Pediatric Research 52(3):377–381.
 Fossel, Michael. 1996. Reversing Human Aging. New York: William Morrow, p. 114.
 Skloot, Rebecca. 2010. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Crown Publishers, p. 2.
 Skloot, 2010.
 Skloot, 2010, p. 216.
 Skloot, 2010, p. 216.
 Fossel, 1996.
 Callaway, Ewen. 2013. Deal done over HeLa cell line. Nature 500:132-133, August 8.
Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.