As of late, Oprah Winfrey has become a major figure in the health and wellness scene. She's dropped 42 pounds (and shared her clever weight-loss secrets!), become a face of Weight Watchers, and even released her own get-healthy cookbook. But now she's coming at the health world from a completely different angle: adapting and starring in a film about one of the biggest developments in modern medicine.
During an appearance on "The Dr. Oz Show" on Thursday, Winfrey talked about her latest passion project, a movie called "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," which is based on the best-selling book of the same name. Set to premiere on HBO on Saturday, April 22, the film follows the true story of Deborah Lacks (Winfrey), the daughter of title character Henrietta, and journalist Rebecca Skloot (Rose Byrne).
I thought if you didn't know, and I didn't know — that was one of the things that inspired me to get this story told.
In the film (as they were in real life and Skloot's book about their journey), the two women are on a mission to learn more about Deborah's mother, who died from cervical cancer in 1951 at the young age of 31, when Deborah was still just a girl. But Henrietta's legacy didn't end there: Unbeknownst to her, a Baltimore doctor at Johns Hopkins took a few cancer cells from her cervix, which rapidly reproduced (and have never stopped reproducing) once they were outside her body, according to the Los Angeles Times.
These cells, now known as HeLa cells, never died and have since been used in research that has led to many major medical breakthroughs, such as the polio vaccine and in vitro fertilization — and they're still used today.
Henrietta Lacks unknowingly became one of the biggest contributors to modern medicine, and until Skloot's award-winning book was released in 2010, her story remained unknown to most people. In fact, Winfrey revealed that when she first started learning about Lacks years ago, even her longtime friend Dr. Oz didn't know who Lacks was!
"You were actually the first person I asked, because I had been in Baltimore all these years and never heard of HeLa or Henrietta Lacks," she says. "I thought if you didn't know, and I didn't know — that was one of the things that actually inspired me to purchase the book and get this story told."
Perhaps the most exciting moment during Winfrey's appearance on the show, however, occurs when Dr. Oz surprises her with a special gift: her own tiny sample of HeLa cells. Watch the video below to see her reaction.