The contributions of Black people to the betterment of the world’s people, and more importantly America is one area of history that will make Black people really proud.
Despite our contributions to science, technology, medicine, architecture and other fields of human endeavor, we have been denied adequate recognition on many occasions. On some other cases, our achievements have been swept under the rug or whitewashed by Euro-centric forces.
One of such great feet, which was in the field of medicine, is the case of an African American woman, named Henrietta Lacks. The cells of her body were taken without her permission and were used for some of the greatest breakthroughs in human history, because of its ability to regenerate.
In 1951, Henrietta Lacks went for treatments at The John Hopkins Hospital, due to vaginal bleeding which she was suffering from. After the tests and examinations, it was discovered that she had a huge malignant tumor on her cervix. The tests and its results were all carried out and brought forward by Dr. Howard Jones, who was a renowned gynecologist.
At that period in American history, blacks were still very much segregated, and The John Hopkins Hospital was among the few that treated and provided health care to the poor African Americans.
From the medical records found with the hospital, it is gathered that she eventually began treatment for cervical cancer at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and that they used the Radium treatment which was the best medical treatment available at the time.
A Biopsy was carried out on her, and the sample of her cancer cells was collected and sent to a nearby tissue that belonged to Dr. George Gey, who was an outstanding cancer and virus researcher.
Before Henrietta Lacks case, he had been taking cells from cervix cancer patients of The Johns Hopkins Hospital. But most, unfortunately, the previous cell samples which he took would die after a little while. But he then discovered that Mrs. Henrietta Lack’s cells grew and doubled within the space of 20 to 24 hours.
On the 4th of October that same year, Mrs Henrietta Lacks passed away. She was 31 at the time and a mother of 5 children.
But after her death, her cells were then used to further great medical breakthroughs in medicine. Her cells, till today, are being used all over the world to study the effects of hormones, drugs, toxins, and also viruses regarding the growth of cancer cells without using humans as guinea pigs for experiments.
Her incredible cells, which are named “HeLa” cells, have proved very effective in the testing of radiation and poisons, and the study of human genes. Most importantly her cells were very instrumental in the study of viruses and the creation of a lasting vaccine for polio.
Her cells contributed to significant researches which also produced two Nobel prices in medical research, and also in-vitro fertilization for women.
An overwhlemingly 17,000 medical patents have been made from HeLa cells in the United States, and a great deal of money has been made from these patents.
In as much Mrs. Lacks consent was not sorted before her cells were taken, hundreds of scientists around the world have continued to use her cells in research. In that same vein, scientists in Germany, in 2013, published a paper which announced that they had made a sequence of the HeLa cell genome “essentially putting Lacks’s DNA sequence up on the Internet for all to see,” according to the Guardian newspaper.
Most of the research done and publications by scientists were carried out and published without the consent of the Lacks Family. Up until 2018, the family had a case with the hospital and other bodies, as they demanded custody of Mrs. Henrietta Lacks cells.