In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman, unknowingly contributed to significant scientific advancements when her rapidly reproducing cancer cells, known as HeLa cells, were extracted. These cells were instrumental in pioneering treatments for polio, cancer, and the development of the human genome map. They've also enabled over 11,000 research studies. Nonetheless, the extraction of these cells highlighted serious ethical misconduct, as they were taken without Lacks' consent. This case exposed not only violations of individual rights, but also demonstrated racial bias and profiteering in the scientific realm. HeLa cells sparked a billion-dollar industry, enriching establishments like Thermo Fisher Scientific, while Lacks's family remained unaware of their mother's legacy. This prompted the introduction of the 1981 Common Rule enhancing informed consent, although racial disparities in healthcare remain, indicating the need for more reforms. Lacks' story is a crucial reminder of past ethical oversights and a driving force for changes in medical ethics and patient rights.
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