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Henrietta Lacks

A major biomedical-research organization has for the first time aimed to make financial reparation for the continuing experimental use of cells from Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman who was the source of the historic ‘HeLa’ cell line, which has been a mainstay of biological research for decades. The Henrietta Lacks Foundation announced the six-figure gift from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in Chevy Chase, Maryland, on 29 October.

In 1951, doctors took cancerous cells from Lacks without her consent, and later created the HeLa cell line, which today supports a multibillion-dollar biotechnology industry. Lacks died soon after, and for decades, her family saw no financial compensation and were not consulted on other medical decisions stemming from the use of the cells in research.

“We felt it was right to acknowledge Henrietta for the use of HeLa cells and to acknowledge that the cells were gained inappropriately,” says Erin O’Shea, president of the HHMI. “And to acknowledge that we have a long way to go before science and medicine are really equitable.” The HHMI did not disclose the exact amount... see more