Monday , May 16 2022

The WHO honors the late Henrietta Lacks for her contributions to scientific research


Lacks, a black woman, was suffering from cervical cancer when she was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951. A surgeon removed cells from her cervix without her consent during a procedure and this sample allowed a doctor to the hospital created the first human cell line to reproduce outside the body.

The cell line, now known as HeLa cells, allowed scientists to experiment with and create life-saving drugs, including the polio vaccine, in vitro fertilization, and gene mapping, in addition to helping to advance cancer and AIDS research.

Lacks, 31, died that same year of cancer, but his influence in the field of medical sciences continued, leading to the WHO General Prize.

“In honor of Henrietta Lacks, the WHO recognizes the importance of taking into account the scientific injustices of the past and advancing racial equity in health and science,” said Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a statement. “It’s also an opportunity to recognize women, especially women of color, who have made incredible but often invisible contributions to medical science.”

Several of Lacks ’grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other grandchildren attended the award ceremony at the WHO office in Geneva. His 87-year-old son, Lawrence Lacks, Sr., accepted the award on his behalf.

“We are moved to receive this historic recognition from my mother, Henrietta Lacks, in honor of who she was a remarkable woman and the lasting impact of her HeLa cells. My mother’s contributions, once hidden, are now being legitimately honored for its global impact, “Lawrence Lacks said in a statement.

“My mother was a pioneer in life, she returned to her community, she helped others live better and cared for others,” she added. “In death he continues to help the world. His legacy remains in us and we thank you for saying his name: Henrietta Lacks.”

Henrietta Lacks died in 1951, but her cells, removed without her consent, have been used for innovative scientific research for decades.

The family is suing a biotech company for unauthorized use of their cells

At the time of the Lacks procedure, taking cells from people without their consent was not against the protocols.

Earlier this month, the Lacks family filed a lawsuit against Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. for an unjust enrichment of non-consensual use and for taking advantage of its tissue sample and cell line.

The lawsuit alleges that Thermo Fisher Scientific is knowingly benefiting from the “illegal conduct” of Johns Hopkins doctors and that its “ill-gotten gains legitimately belong to Ms. Lacks’ Estate.”

He argues that the company “makes a conscious decision to sell and mass-produce the living fabric of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman, grandmother and community leader, despite the corporation’s knowledge that Mrs. Lacks’ fabric went to her. removed without their Johns Hopkins Hospital doctors and an unjust racial medical system. “

Although the origin of HeLa cells has not been clear for years, the history of Lacks has been widely known in the 21st century. It was the subject of a best-selling book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” which was published in 2010, and a later film of the same name starring Oprah Winfrey. The U.S. House of Representatives has recognized his non-consensual contribution to cancer research, and John Hopkins holds a series of conferences annually on its impact on medicine.

The lawsuit states that with this widespread recognition, Thermo Fisher Scientific cannot say it was unaware of the history of its products containing HeLa cells and points to a page on the company’s website acknowledging that the cells were taken without Lacks’ consent. Depending on demand, there are at least 12 products marketed by Thermo Fisher that include the HeLa cell line.

Thermo Fisher Scientific generates annual revenues of approximately $ 35 billion, according to its website. CNN has contacted the company to comment.

CNN’s Taylor Romine contributed to this report.

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