Henrietta was 31 when she died of cervical cancer in 1951. Before her death, and without consent, doctors removed some tumor cells for study. They discovered the cells could thrive in a lab – a feat no human cells had achieved before. Soon HeLa cells were being shipped round the world…and became the subject of 74,000 studies.
The Lacks’ family first learned about the cells in 1973, when a scientist called to ask for blood samples to study the family’s inherited genes. While the new National Institute of Health agreement does not provide the family with the right to potential earnings from future research, it outlines how data will be accessed, and includes two family members in future applications reviews.
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