On April 12, 1955, Dr. Thomas Francis Jr. and Dr. Jonas Salk announced the successful results of the first polio vaccine. Researchers developed the vaccine using cells from the HeLa cell line, cells derived from the cancerous tissues of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman who died in 1951 from cervical cancer. Ms. Lacks’ cells became the foundation for many medical innovations in the latter half of the 20th century, all without her family’s consent or knowledge.
When Lacks, a Baltimore resident, came to Johns Hopkins Hospital seeking medical attention, doctors discovered a lump on her cervix. After she died several months later, leaving behind a husband and young children, researchers discovered that her cancerous cells continued to reproduce in petri dishes every 24 hours – the first “immortal” cell line in history. The cells derived from Lacks’ body were named “the HeLa Line” and served as the foundation for many medical advances, including cancer and HIV/AIDS research, generating billions of dollars.
In the years that Mrs. Lacks’ cells were being used for research, the Lacks family was never notified or compensated for this use, nor were they asked for their consent. They first learned of the immortal cells more than twenty years after Mrs. Lacks’ death, when scientists sought to conduct research on her children to learn more about the HeLa cells.
From the Equal Justice Initiative’s A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.
“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar. America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans. The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood. EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.