Henrietta Lacks

the use of her cells without consent led to research that underpins modern medicine


Henrietta Lacks’s cells have saved millions of lives, but she has only recently been acknowledged and her descendants compensated for widespread use of those cells.  Henrietta was diagnosed with aggressive cervical cancer in the early 1950s, when doctors discovered that her cancerous cells (“HeLa cells”) were able to survive and reproduce unlike any other human cells. Her HeLa cells were then used, without her knowledge or consent, to develop novel medical modalities such as in vitro fertilization. For decades after she lost her life to cervical cancer, her HeLa cells were used for research and to develop products with no acknowledgement or compensation.  While Henrietta’s cells were used for doing good, her story highlights long-standings the racial inequities in research and health-care systems and the need for systemic review and change.

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