BALTIMORE (WJZ) — U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D, Md.) has introduced a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously to Baltimore woman Henrietta Lacks for her contributions to modern science.
Lacks, a Baltimore woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951, had her cells taken without her permission decades ago and they are still being used for medical research today.READ MORE: Maryland Weather: Tornado Watch Canceled For State, Severe Thunderstorm Warning Over
In the mid-1900s, Lacks went to Johns Hopkins Hospital to get treatment for cervical cancer. Hospital officials said when her cells were sent to a lab nearby for a biopsy, the doctor realized that instead of dying, her cells doubled every day. The cells were nicknamed “HeLa” cells.”
The cells played a significant role in medical research and advancements, but doctors never asked Lacks or her family for permission to use the cells. HeLa cells were used in the development of the polio vaccine, along with treatments for cancer, HIV/AIDS, leukemia and Parkinson’s disease.
“The debt of gratitude we owe Henrietta Lacks can never be fully repaid for her invaluable contributions to medical research that have benefitted millions of people across the world. But we can work to ensure that Americans know her story and the critical impact her life-saving cells have had on global health, our quality of life, and patients’ rights,” said Senator Van Hollen. “I’m honored to help lead the charge to award Mrs. Lacks a Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest expression of appreciation, to properly recognize her contributions to the world and highlight her life’s incredible story.”READ MORE: Video Shows Squeegee Worker Assaulting A Driver At Busy Baltimore Intersection
Congressman Kweisi Mfume of Maryland introduced the companion legislation in the U.S. House in March. It’s a personal mission for Mfume, who was only separated from the Lacks family by a few blocks.
“My mother knew her mother,” Mfume told WJZ in March. “She knew my mother. And there’s so many stories that have come out of Turner Station that have never been told. This one is indeed significant.”
Lawrence Lacks, Sr., Henrietta Lacks’ eldest son, thanked the senators for their support.MORE NEWS: Hogan Vetoes 18 Bills, Including Ballot Signature Measure
“We thank Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin for their leadership in advancing the effort to award a Congressional Gold Medal to my mother, Henrietta Lacks, as the world commemorates 70 years since her HeLa cells changed modern medicine,” said Lawrence Lacks, Sr.