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Maryland congressional delegation introduces legislation to honor Baltimore's Henrietta Lacks

Maryland congressional delegation introduces legislation to honor Baltimore's Henrietta Lacks
Henrietta Lacks died in 1951 at Johns Hopkins Hospital of ovarian cancer. Her cells have been used worldwide for study and research, and the family has not been compensated monetarily or historically. (Handout)

Maryland’s congressional delegation has introduced legislation to honor the life of Henrietta Lacks by examining access to cancer clinical trials and how it affects traditionally underrepresented groups.

In a news release, U.S. Representatives Elijah Cummings, Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes joined Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin in introducing the “Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act.”

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In a statement, Cummings said the legislation would require the Government Accountability Office to publish “a report on the barriers facing traditionally underrepresented communities to participate in federally-funded cancer clinical trials.”

Before Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951, doctors treating the Baltimore resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital took her cells without her consent.

Those cells were then turned into the “HeLa” cell line, which has become famous for being “immortal” and for being used to develop treatment for cancer, HIV and Parkinson’s disease.

The delegation wrote that black females have the highest death rates among those diagnosed with cancer and that 20 percent of cancer clinical trials fail because of a lack of patient enrollment.

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