Following agreement, NIH will release controversial HeLa cell genome


After reaching an agreement with the family of a woman whose cells have become incredibly important to science, the National Institutes of Health will begin granting controlled access to the cells’ genetic information.

Henrietta Lacks died in 1951 from cervical cancer, but lived on through the cells taken from her tumor without consent. Known as HeLa cells, they became the first human cells continuously replicated for research and today are the most widely used cells in existence.

The cells thrust the Lacks family into the public eye due to a scientific paper in 1971 (subscription required), a BBC documentary in 1997 and a bestselling book in 2010, all of which identified Lacks by name. The Lacks family and researchers began objecting to the scant credit given to Lacks for her contribution to science.

In March, German researchers published the HeLa genome and compared its DNA to healthy cells. There…

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