Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman who lived in Virginia and worked as a tobacco farmer. In 1951, at age 30, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. A physician from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore used a piece of her cervical tumor to grow a cell line to be used for medical research. Neither Henrietta nor her family had any knowledge that her cells were used for research, and they never signed an informed consent document.
The immortal cell line was named HeLa, from the first two letters of Henrietta’s first and last names. It comprised the first human cells to ever grow in a culture medium. Henrietta’s cells were used to develop the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and in vitro fertilization, among other scientific advancements. Her cells were used for 25 years after her death.7 It remains unclear why her cells never died.
The story was uncovered when writer Rebecca Skloot researched the history of HeLa cells. Skloot revealed that the Lacks family was unaware that researchers sold vials of their mother’s cells, never receiving any money. Skloot’s best-selling book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, revealed what she uncovered in her investigation. The Henrietta Lacks Foundation was subsequently started to provide financial assistance to needy individuals who have made important contributions to scientific research without their knowledge or consent.
Consider how the evaluator on these projects could have explained the risks of the research, the potential benefits of the research, and the importance of the knowledge to be gained from the research to the involved human subjects.