Henrietta Lacks’ family granted some control over DNA

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)-- A young woman who lost her life to cancer in 1951 is helping millions through her death.

Over the past six decades the cells from Henrietta Lacks have been used in the development of vaccines and medicines.

Some of her relatives were in St. Louis Thursday. The great-granddaughter and daughter in law of Henrietta shared her incredible legacy with students at St. Louis College of Pharmacy.

Henrietta died of cervical cancer in a Baltimore hospital.

Before her death doctors had removed some of her tumor cells and later discovered they could thrive in a lab, a feat no human cells had achieved before.

Her fast growing cells have been used in over 70,000 medical studies.

HELA cells as they are called have made vital contributions to the development of drugs for herpes, leukemia, influenza and Parkinson’s disease.

A bestselling book titled “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” was published two years ago.

Over the summer, incoming first year students at St. Louis College of Pharmacy were required to read the book.

The goal was to let them see the human side of medicine.

Doctors at Johns Hopkins originally removed cancerous cells from Henrietta's body without her family’s consent, something that was quite common at the time.

For 62 years, her family has been left out of the decision-making about that research.

But last month, the National Institute of Health took the important step of granting descendants of Henrietta some control over how her genome is used.