Demand Carleton University recognize Henrietta Lacks for BIPOC scientific contribution

Demand Carleton University recognize Henrietta Lacks for BIPOC scientific contribution

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Carleton HeLa Cells started this petition to Carleton University and

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Henrietta Lacks was a Black woman born on August 1, 1920 in Roanoke, Virginia. She moved to Baltimore with her husband, David Lacks. There she became a mother of five children: Elsie, David, Deborah, Lawrence, Elsie, and Joseph (Zakariyya). She was a tobacco farmer. In 1951, she went to John Hopkins hospital complaining about extensive vaginal bleeding. This hospital at the time was the only hospital treating Black patients free of charge. There, Henrietta was diagnosed with cervical cancer. As a typical procedure, a biopsy of her cells was taken and sent to Dr. George Gey; a cancer and virus researcher. At the time, there were no ethics or regulations around consent at the time, so Henrietta had no idea her cells were taken. Note that this was typical for all patients regardless of race and in the case for Dr. Gey; patients with cervical cancer. However, this does not excuse the bioethical issues behind her cells. Henrietta’s cells did what all other samples in Dr. Gey’s lab could not and that was double in culture size. Her cells continued to multiply and live today. Despite her cells living, Henrietta passed away on October 4, 1951. 


Henrietta’s cells contributed significantly to science, where there are 17 000 patents involved using HeLa cells; creating the foundation for a multibillion dollar industry. Noting that Dr. Gey has not made any profit from these cells. Some examples her cells were used in were: polio vaccine development, improved cell culture practices, chromosome counting, genome mapping, the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, and even in COVID-19 experiments. The bioethical issue presented is that the media easily found who Henrietta’s family was and gave them unwanted media attention. Her cells were taken in 1951 and her family only knew about her cells in 1971. In addition, her family has received no profits from the multibillion dollar industry.


This is a student-run initiative from Carleton University in Ottawa, ON. What the intention of this project is to recognize the use of HeLa cells in the BIOL3201 and BIOL4201 lab components for about the past 10 years. Her cells are used to show the cell cycle, chemotherapeutic agents, cell motility, metastasis, and teach the 2D and 3D adherent immortalized cell culture. What we are asking from Carleton are two things:

  1. A plaque explaining her history in front of the BIOL3201/4201 lab to expand the recognition beyond the Biology community at Carleton
  2. That same lab to be named after her as either “Henrietta Lacks” or “Lacks” lab.*

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This initiative is with the permission and knowledge of the Lacks’ family.

*Name of the lab will be determined by the Lacks’ family.  

  


Sources

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/henriettalacks/
https://hela100.org/herstory
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/henrietta-lacks-immortal-cells-6421299/
https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-lacks-family-reach-understanding-share-genomic-data-hela-cells
https://www.newscientist.com/article/2250449-genetic-privacy-we-must-learn-from-the-story-of-henrietta-lacks/
https://www.technologynetworks.com/cell-science/lists/5-contributions-hela-cells-have-made-to-science-305036
Well and Good, 4th Edition

For more information about Henrietta Lacks, please visit her family’s website: https://hela100.org/.

Written by: Nadeea R.

Edited by: Emily S.

 

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