In 1951, a 31-year-old woman by the name of Henrietta Lacks took her last breath. Unfortunately, she succumbed to the cervical cancer that took residency in her body, but the legacy that she left behind shaped DNA and cancer research as we know it. She was treated for her illness at Johns Hopkins. During one of her radiation sessions, two samples were taken from her cervix without her permission. One sample was swapped from a healthy area of her cervix, while the other was taken from a cancerous area.The cells eventually became known as HeLa immortal cell line and are generally used in biomedical research. The interesting tale is best recounted in 2010 best-seller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
It is said that the samples taken from Henrietta set the groundwork for the multi-million dollar biomedical research industry, as they allowed researchers to analyze the cells in a way that they couldn’t on living humans. To date, Henrietta’s relatives have yet to see a dime of the millions of dollars made off of her cells, but as of yesterday, they’ve gained a little more control over scientists who are given access to the cells and what they’re allowed to do with them.
The legal battle was a rather legnthy one, but the family reached a settlement with the National Institutes of Health. According to Washington Post, under the new agreement, two family members will retain seats on the six-member committee that regulates scietists and doctors who want to conduct research on the cells. In addition to being including in the decision making,they will receive their due credit in any scientific journals that come as a result of the research being conducted on the cells. According to the Huffington Post, this decision was reached after the family raised concerns about researchers who wanted to go public with Henrietta’s DNA makeup.
“The main issue was the privacy concern and what information in the future might be revealed,” said Henrietta’s grandson David Jr.
“In the past, the Lacks family has been left in the dark. We are excited to be part of the important HeLa science to come,” added Henrietta’s granddaughter Jeri Lacks Whye.
Good for them!