Op-Ed

The legacy of Henrietta Lacks popped up again today in a piece in the New York Times that should resonate among stem cell researchers and within the stem cell industry.

It even has a current hook involving California legislation to permit women to sell their eggs for the purposes of scientific research – a bill that is now on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown.

The issues in the Lacks saga involve ownership of human cells, trafficking in them and informed consent, all of which surface in one form or another in the state legislation.

But first a refresher on Henrietta Lacks. She was an African-American woman who died in 1951 of cervical cancer at the age of 31. Shortly before her death, physicians removed some of her tumor cells, and, as recounted in today's NYTimes article by Carl Zimmer,
“They later discovered that the cells could thrive in a lab, a feat no human cells had achieved before.

"Soon the cells — nicknamed HeLa cells — were being shipped from Baltimore around the world. In the 62 years since...