WHO accuses medical world of hiding race of a black woman Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were used to achieve breakthrough researches in cancer, HIV, COVID-19 and more

WHO accuses medical world of hiding race of a black woman Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were used to achieve breakthrough researches in cancer, HIV, COVID-19 and more



The World Health Organisation (WHO) has honoured Henrietta Lacks, recognising the world-changing legacy of the Black woman whose cancer cells were taken out without her consent, and has provided the basis for life-changing medical breakthroughs.



In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a Black mother of five who was dying of cervical cancer, went to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for treatment. Without her knowledge or consent, doctors removed a sample of cells from the tumor in her cervix. They gave the sample to a researcher at Johns Hopkins University who was trying to find cells that would survive indefinitely so researchers could experiment on them.



The invasive procedure led to a world-changing discovery: The cells became the first immortal line of human cells to divide indefinitely as it thrived and multiplied in the laboratory, something no human cells had done before. They were reproduced billions of times, contributed to nearly 75,000 studies and helped pave the way for the HPV vaccine, medications used to help patients with H.I.V. and AIDS and, recently, the development of Covid-19 vaccines.



The HeLa cell line was developed from her tumour and the cells were mass-produced, for-profit, without recognition to her family who only found out that they had been used for science in the 1970s. Her life and legacy were documented in the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, which was later made into a film.







In addition to the HPV and polio vaccines, the cells allowed for development of drugs for HIV/AIDS, haemophilia, leukaemia, and Parkinson’s disease; breakthroughs in reproductive health, including in vitro fertilisation; research on chromosomal conditions, cancer, gene mapping, and precision medicine.



Earlier this month, Lacks’s estate moved to sue a pharmaceutical company that had used the HeLa cell line. The action said the company made a “conscious choice” to mass-produce the cells and profit from a “racially unjust medical system”, the Reuters news agency reported.



More than 50,000,000 metric tonnes of HeLa cells have been distributed around the world since they were taken from Lacks, according to the WHO.



In recognising Henrietta Lacks, the WHO said it wanted to address a “historic wrong”, noting the global scientific community once hid her ethnicity and her real story.



WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said;Latest Post
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