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HeLa Cells Shape Medical Practice and Policy

September 09, 2015
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Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman who lived in Maryland and died of cervical cancer in 1951 at the age of 31. She was loved by many including her family who continue to share her miraculous story today. After her death, Lacks' tumor cells thrived in the laboratory, and from a medical standpoint, Lacks' cells are considered immortal. Her story and genome remain one of the biggest medical phenomenons to date. Commonly referred to as HeLa cells, Lacks' incredible DNA has been used for research around the world and stands as the most common cell found in laboratories and medical facilities alike. HeLa cells are completely unique, and although other similar cells have been discovered, Henrietta's are a one-of-a-kind medical marvel. However, Lacks was never able to give permission regarding the research based use of her cells, and recently, blood relatives have raised awareness surrounding their concerns of keeping some medical information private. On August 7, 2013, over three long meetings, the Lacks family affirmed that they are in favor of continued research and remain positive of the legacy of Henrietta. Researchers who wish to have complete DNA information must complete an application and report on all of their findings using HeLa cells. They are not permitted to contact Lack's family members directly, and they must be granted this permission by a board of overseers including two living members of the Lacks family. While Henrietta Lacks has given the medical field generations of new insight, she has also shaped the way we view medical policy and ask for consent. Learn more about her story and how it has impacted the medical field as a whole in the video below!
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