WHO honors Henrietta Lacks as family demands justice

October 14, 2021 – Henrietta Lacks, the black woman whose cells were notoriously taken without her knowledge for scientific research, was honored this week by the World Health Organization as her family continues the fight to protect her legacy.

Lacks cells, commonly known as “HeLa”, are the only known human cells that continue to stay alive and reproduce apart from the human body. When a person dies, their cells usually die soon after. But its cells have been used for decades in medical discoveries and life-saving treatments.

“In honoring Henrietta Lacks, WHO recognizes the importance of taking into account past scientific knowledge. injustices, and advance the breed equity in health and science, ”WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said at a ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday. “It is also an opportunity to recognize women – especially women of color – who have made incredible but often invisible contributions to medical science.”

Lawrence Lacks, the 87-year-old son of Henrietta Lacks, accepted the award on her behalf.

In search of justice

The ceremony took place just over a week after the family of Henrietta Lacks took action against the widespread and unauthorized commercial use of HeLa. cells, as well as to find the “ownership” of cells.

On October 4, the Lacks family estate filed a trial against Thermo Fisher Scientific, a pharmaceutical company, for selling HeLa cells in large quantities at a high price – the company makes nearly $ 35 billion in income each year – while the Lacks family never benefited financially, according to the lawsuit.

In 1951, the year doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital, cut Lacks’s cell tissue cervix while receiving treatment for the cervix Cancer, doctors did not need to ask for permission to take samples.

But the lawsuit alleges that the multi-billion dollar company continued to generate incredible revenues even after experiencing the origins HeLa cells.

The combination asks the court to order Thermo Fisher Scientific to “return the full amount of its net profits obtained by marketing the HeLa cell line to the estate of Henrietta Lacks”.

HeLa cells are valued between $ 400 and thousands of dollars per vial, The Wall Street Journal reported.

HeLa cells allow scientists to perform endless tests to better understand the human body and what it can do, which has led scientists to understand the effects of polio on the body, which helped create the polio vaccine.

HeLa cells were also taken to space to understand the body’s reaction to zero gravity.

Restoring Confidence – Globally

For some, a Lacks family victory in court becomes controversial page in American history, a story full of controversies.

“If you think back to the context where his cells were taken 70 years ago, what was going on in America with all of this”medical the experimentation “amounted to medical racism,” civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who is part of the legal team representing the Lacks family, said at a recent press conference.

A notable example mentioned by Crump is the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which took place between 1932 and the mid-1970s.

black men with syphilis they were told they were receiving treatment, when in fact they were being studied for understand the aggressiveness of the disease. Even after penicillin has become the norm processing for syphilis in 1943, the experiment continued, and numerous died as a result.

The legacy of the betrayal is still felt today in the midst of COVID-19[feminineet les efforts de vaccination précoce. De nombreux Noirs étaient très sceptiques quant à l’obtention d’un COVID-19 vaccin, avec méfiance médicale des événements passés en jouant un rôle majeur, études spectacle.

“Cette [lawsuit] is historic, not only because it would benefit his family, but finally America could tackle trying to do better, be better, in medical matters racism“said Crump.

Other nations tackle racism mail, too, through the history of Lacks.

In England, a life-size bronze statue of Lacks was unveiled on October 4 at the University of Bristol.

It is the first public sculpture of a black woman – made by a black woman – in the UK, the BBC reported.

“Given her heritage as an African-American woman and Bristol’s connection to the slaving away trade is an important statement for Bristol ”, Helen Wilson-Roe, the artist who created the sculpture, said at the unveiling ceremony.

Over 2,000 trips from Africa to the Americas, carrying over half a million slaves, were financed by Bristol merchants from 1698 to 1807, according to free museums and historic houses in Bristol.

More than medicine

A victory for the Lacks family in court could represent not only justice in the health care system, but also blacks being considered equal players in society, Crump said.

“Often discussed in the Black community, why Henry Ford’s family can define his heritage and benefit from his legacy, the Dupont family can define his heritage and enjoy his legacy, the Rockefeller legacy, the Kennedy legacy… ”he said.

“But when it comes to black people, can others define our heritage and others benefit from our heritage?” “

“We make every effort to ensure that it [Lacks’s] the family can benefit from it for generations to come, for her children and more children to be born. “

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