July 19th, 2022, by Labtoo's team
Henrietta Lacks, commonly known as HeLa, was an African American who was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She died in 1951.
Before her treatments started, a doctor took a sample of her tumor without her consent. The sample was sent to a scientist and after a little research, it has been found that her cells were able to be cultivated infinitely. Her cells played a determining role in the discovery of a vaccine against polio and are now used to study AIDS and cancer.
70 years after her death, her cells are still used without any consent from the family of Lacks in thousands of laboratories all around the world. The use of her cells without consent and the fact that the family was informed of their use long after her death made the family open up a legal case.
Fortunately, this would not happen nowadays, legislation evolved drastically in many countries and consent forms are a cornerstone of all use of biological samples in medical research. Anonymization (or at least pseudonymization) of donors is mandatory as well. In France, for instance, no compensation can be given to the donor, which limits abuses toward the patients. But the HeLa story raises many questions as well, as the positive impact on society is so high that a solution should be found to acknowledge and clarify the flawed situation as soon as possible.