The World Health Organization on Wednesday gave an award to the family of Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells have contributed to medical advancements but were extracted without her consent. Lacks went to John Hopkins Hospital on January 29, 1951, because she was experiencing stomach pain in her womb. She had a hemorrhage and was tested for syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection. The outcomes were dismal.
Lacks’ cervix was biopsied by her doctor, Howard W. Jones. She was diagnosed with a malignant epidermoid carcinoma. Radium tube inserts were used to treat Lacks. She was supposed to return to the hospital for more X-ray treatments. Unbeknown to Lacks and without her agreement, samples were collected from her cervix. George Otto Gey, a cancer researcher, and doctor at John Hopkins, received the samples. One sample was non-cancerous whereas the other was malignant.
Lacks’ cervix cells later became known as the HeLa immortal cell line, which is now a widely used cell line. In scientific study, the HeLa cell line is frequently utilized. What is equally interesting about HeLa is that the cells can be employed again and time again. Even if the cells are no longer “alive,” a fresh batch can be extracted from the initial culture of cells.
The HeLa cells were used to develop a Polio vaccine in 1952. The cells were the first to be cloned successfully in 1953. The cells have also been employed in gene mapping and subsequent studies for a variety of diseases. HeLa cells are presently the subject of 11,000 patents.
Lacks died on October 4, 1951, at the age of 31 from cervical cancer. Lawrence Lacks, her eldest son, was presented with the award by the WHO at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. During the ceremony, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “What happened to Henrietta was wrong.”
“Henrietta Lacks was taken advantage of. She is one of many black women whose bodies have been used by scientists.
“She put her faith in the medical system in order to acquire treatment.” “However, the system took something from her without her permission or knowledge,” Tedros explained.
Lawrence acknowledged his mother as a remarkable woman while accepting the honor. “My mother’s achievements, which were previously overlooked, are finally being properly recognized for their global significance,” Lawrence added.
“In life, my mother was a trailblazer, giving back to her community, assisting others in living a better life, and caring for others. She continues to benefit the globe even after she has passed on. We thank you for mentioning her name — Henrietta Lacks – because her legacy lives on in us.”
Lacks’ grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and other relatives accompanied Lawrence. Lacks’ family members stated two months ago that they were suing pharmaceutical corporations for continuing to exploit her cells without compensating the family. Ben Crump, a well-known civil rights attorney, will represent the family in what is expected to be an unusual case, according to reports.
“The pharmaceutical corporations took her cells, her wonderful cells, without her knowledge or permission and have changed her genetic material to this day,” Crump stated in August. “Her family has come here today to begin the process of righting that wrong.”