Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells were taken without her knowledge and fueled decades of biomedical research, has received a posthumous award from the World Health Organization for her contributions to science, according to the Associated Press.
"Henrietta Lacks was exploited. She is one of many women of color whose bodies have been misused by science," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, said in a ceremony honoring Lacks, according to the AP. "She placed her trust in the health system so she could receive treatment. But the system took something from her without her knowledge or consent."
As the New York Times notes, Tedros added that the inequality has continued, as HeLa cells have been used, for instance, to develop cervical cancer and COVID-19 vaccines that are not available to poorer nations. Groesbeck Parham, the chair of a WHO group on eliminating cervical cancer, said that the best way to honor Lacks' contribution to science would be to address inequities in science and medicine, the Times adds.
Last week, members of the Lacks family filed a lawsuit against Thermo Fisher Scientific for mass-producing and selling HeLa cells, and a lawyer for the Lacks family has said other companies may also be sued.