The Immortal Cells of Henrietta Lacks

Earlier this year I performed at the Wellcome Genome Campus, and this saw the first performance of a new song dedicated to Henrietta Lacks, who passed from Cervical Cancer a century ago. The researchers studying her passing realised her cells were unlike other cancer cells they had studied before in that they could be grown for study in laboratory conditions. Biology and cancer research has made huge gains from this, though huge ethically questionable steps were made. Much more is available on the Wikipedia page, and an even more depth story can be found in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, a book first recommended to me while I worked on campus, so it means a lot to have performed it here.

The video was made in the gardens of Hinxton Hall, on the Wellcome Genome Campus, a place where much genetic data analysis, vital to the search for cures and prevention in modern cancer research happens. Outdoors, and a bit windy (didn’t put the windshield on, d’oh) but I hope you enjoy it still!


She could / have not known / as she died /  She held a key inside
Her cells would / be grown / in a way that / would save lives
Born as Loretta / Died Henrietta / Worked on a tobacco farm
Gave up school to do so / mothered four young kids / she felt a knot when aged 21 in her womb
A cancer taken hold / she gave birth to child 5 / But she herself was doomed
In an immortal cell line
HeLa Cells / help healers sell
A second chance at life

George Otto Gey / was the one to investigate / what he found find blew / him away
Cells from her cervix / gave cancer cells that could still live / in a petri dish / for more than a few days
Growing cancer cells in labs / was not possible before
Now there was a pathway / for those wanting to explore
He chose to donate / these cancer cells that would replicate / to all those searching for a cure
Cervical cancer links to HPV / Test bed for polio vaccine
(Henrietta Lacks your cells are going strong/
though they didn’t ask you and that bit was wrong)

copyright Rishi Nag 2022

Comments are closed.