At a ceremony in Geneva, the World Health Organization presented an award to the family of Mrs. Lacks, whose cancer cells helped toglobal advances in medical and scientific research.
In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a black mother of five children who died of cervical cancer, went to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for treatment.
Without her knowledge or consent, the doctors took a sample of tumor cells from the cervix. They gave the sample to a Johns Hopkins University researcher who was trying to find cells that would survive indefinitely so that researchers could experiment on them.
The invasive procedure led to a discovery that changed the world: cells thrived and multiplied in laborimportant, which no human cell has done before. They have been reproduced billions of times, contributed to nearly 75,000 studies and helped pave the way for the HPV vaccine, drugs used to help patients with HIV. and AIDS and, recently, the development of vaccines against Covid-19.
Wednesday, 70 years after the death of Ms. Lacks in the "color room From Johns Hopkins Hospital and was buried in an unmarked grave, the World Health Organization honored her unwitting contribution to science and medicine.
During a ceremony in Geneva , Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of WHO, handed over the Director General's Award to Mrs. Lacks' son,Lawrence Lacks, who was 16 when her mother died on October 4, 1951.
Victoria Baptiste, the great-granddaughter of Mrs. Lacks, has said the family were "humbled" by the presentation and recognition of the legacy of "a black woman from the tobacco fields of Clover, Virginia".
" Henrietta 's once hidden contributions are now rightly honored for their global impact, "said Registered Nurse Ms. Baptiste.
Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist of the WHO, said that around 50 million metric tons of cells, known as HeLa cells, have been used by researchers and scientists around the world.
"It 's just huge, when you think about it," Dr Swaminathan mentioned. "I can't think of any other cell line or laboratory reagent.material that has been used to this extent and has resulted in so much progress. "
Ms Lacks moved from Virginia to Baltimore with her husband, David Lacks, in the 1940s, looking for better opportunities for his family, according to the Henrietta Lacks Initiative , an organization founded by her grandchildren.
She went to Johns Hopkins for help after she had severe vaginal bleeding. She was 31 when sh We died eight months after learning that she had cervical cancer.
Neither she nor her family learned that tissue samples from her tumor had been returned to Dr. George Gey, a Johns Hopkins medical researcher.
Cellss derivatives of the sample were particularly resistant, doubling every 24 hours and managing to grow successfully outside the human body for more than 36 hours, according to the Henrietta Lacks Initiative.
The breakthrough delighted scientists and researchers who used them to develop the first polio vaccine and produce drugs for other diseases, including Parkinson's disease, leukemia and flu.
But Ms. Lacks is the identity remained hidden from the researchers . His family only discovered the use of his cells in 1973, when scientists called them for blood samples so they could study their genes, according to " The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks ", a bestseller by Rebecca Skloot which was also shot in a movie with Oprah Winfrey .
M / s. Lacks' descendants expressed their pride in what her cells have accomplished, but also their anger at the way she was treated by the medics. This fury was only compounded by the commercialization of her cells.
Dr. Gey, who has studied Ms. Lacks' tissues, has not benefited from her research. But over the decades , the biotech companies marketed the cells and sold them even though Ms. Lacks 'family never received any compensation.
" Fortunes have been made, "Dr Tedros said on Wednesday." Science has advanced. Nobel Prizes have been won and, more importantly, many lives have been saved. "
"No doubt Henrietta would have been delighted if her suffering had saved others," he said. continued. "But the end does not justify the means.
On October 4, his descendants continued Thermo Fisher Scientific , a biotech company they accused "of making a conscious choice to sell and mass produce the living tissue of Henrietta Lacks," according to the federal lawsuit.
The family said they demanded that Thermo Fisher pay $ 9.9 million and "return the full amount of their babynet harm obtained by marketing the HeLa cell line "to the estate of Mrs. Lacks.
During a press conference, Christopher Seeger, a lawyer family, suggested that more biotech companies could be sued.
Ther mo Fisher "shouldn't feel too lonely, as they are going to have a lot of company very soon "said Mr. Seeger.
Thermo Fisher, who is based in Waltham, Mass., has no immediately responded to a message requesting comment.
Dr. Tedros said on Wednesday that the injustice that began with the removal of Ms Lacks' cells had He noted, for example, that vaccines that help prevent cervical cancer and guard against Covid-19 remain inaccessible in poor countries.
Another iSpeaker, Groesbeck Parham, a co-chair of the CEO's panel on cervical cancer elimination, said the most effective way to recognize Ms Lacks' contribution would be to end inequalities in health and science.
He said: "This is how we truly honor Mrs Henrietta Lacks and immortalize her miracle. "