Henrietta Lacks recognized with namesake congressional bill

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Congress is finally recognizing the lasting legacy of medical research pioneer Henrietta Lacks — with a bill named in the Maryland woman’s honor.

Lack’s extraordinary, and unwitting, contribution to medical research was highlighted in the book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” which described how her cervical cancer cells were biopsied by a doctor in 1951 after she sought treatment for unexplained bleeding.

A poor black woman, Lacks was never asked to consent to what happened next. Her harvested cells showed an uncommon ability to multiply under lab conditions — and for decades have been shared and studied by cancer researchers around the world.

The Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act, passed by the U.S. Senate Friday, is set to land on President Trump’s desk for signing. The US House of Representatives passed the legislation earlier in December.

The bill requires the federal government to report on its cancer research trials, and catalog the amount of participation by minorities along with potential barriers to their inclusion in the work.

The generations of cells, known as “HeLa” cells in a nod to her first and last names, remain critical for medical researchers — but her family was never told about or compensated for her contribution.

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