Updated: Jul 23, 2020
(Photo Credit: The Henrietta Lacks Foundation)
Henrietta Lacks was a Baltimore resident whose cancer cells were harvested from her without her consent at Johns Hopkins University in the 1940s. Her cells, dubbed the immortal HeLa cell, would become the cornerstone of medical research and drive a multi-million dollar industry. But her descendants did not know the story of their mother or her exploitation, and lived in debt from mounting medical bills. They received not a cent from these corporations, whose profits were rooted in HeLa cell research.
In the wake of this tragedy, her children have brought awareness to this bioethical travesty and this has brought forth new biomedical regulations that doctors and researchers are bound to uphold. In 2013, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) worked with the Lacks family to facilitate better relations and obtain consent to use the HeLa cells' genetic data. Although this discrimination should have not occurred in the first place, the Henrietta Lacks Foundation works to help those families who have contributed to science without their consent, and to help minorities with medical assistance.
To find out more about Henrietta Lacks and also her daughter’s experience, please read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Also, to learn more about the impact of this on the scientific community, read more about the NIH's agreement with the Lacks family and the Henrietta Lacks Foundation. Additionally, there is a recent movie called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks that one can view for more information.