Oct 19 2021
The World Health Organization on Wednesday honored the late Henrietta Lacks, whose cells have been used for innovative scientific research for decades, with an award in recognition of her contributions to the advancement of medical science.
Lacks, a Black woman, was suffering from cervical cancer when she was being treated at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951. A surgeon removed cells from her cervix without her consent during a procedure and that sample enabled a doctor at the hospital to create the first human cell line to reproduce outside the body.
The cell line, now known as HeLa cells, allowed scientists to experiment and create life-saving medicine including the polio vaccine, in-vitro fertilization and gene mapping as well as helped advance cancer and AIDS research…
While the origin of HeLa cells was not clear for years, Lacks’ story has become widely known in the 21st century. It was the subject of a best-selling book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which was published in 2010, and a subsequent movie of the same name starring Oprah Winfrey. The US House of Representatives has recognized her nonconsensual contribution to cancer research, and John Hopkins holds an annual lecture series on her impact on medicine.