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WHO honors Henrietta Lacks and its cells have made great scientific progress

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Geneva (AP) —Wednesday, the head of the World Health Organization said an American woman whose cancer cells were unknowingly harvested in the 1950s and provided the basis for enormous scientific progress, including research on the coronavirus. , Honored the late Henrietta Lax. ..

WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adanom Gebreyes approves “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” a Rebecca Skloot book on medical discrimination faced by African Americans, the life made possible by Lux. It’s been over 10 years since the publication of Saving Innovation. ‘A court battle over the unauthorized use of cells and her family.

“What happened to Henrietta was wrong,” Tedros said at a special ceremony at WHO Geneva headquarters before giving the Henrietta Lacks Secretary’s Award to his 87-year-old son Lawrence Lux, while some of his other descendants were watching. ..

Luck died of cervical cancer on October 4, 1951 at the age of 31. Tissue collected from her at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore provided the first human cells to be successfully cloned. Since then, infinitely replicated HeLa cells have been the basis of modern medicine, including the development of polio vaccines, genetic maps, and even the COVID-19 vaccine.

Tedros said that Lux lived in a time when racism was legal in the United States, and that even if it is no longer legal in most countries, it is still widespread.

“Henrietta Lacks has been abused. She is one of many colored women whose bodies have been abused by science,” he said. “She relied on her health care system so she could get treatment, but the system robbed her of something without her knowledge and consent.”

“The medical technology developed from this injustice has not been fairly shared around the world and has been used to perpetuate further injustice,” Tedros added.

The HeLa cell line, a name derived from the first two letters of Henrietta Lacks’ first and last name, was a scientific advance. Tedros said the cells are “basic” in the development of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and can eliminate the cancer that killed her.

As of last year, less than 25% of the world’s low-income countries and less than 30% of low- and middle-income countries have access to the HPV vaccine through their national immune programs, compared to more than 85% of high-income countries, according to the WHO. I did. Country.

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