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Henrietta Lacks' descendants respond to NIH changes

Updated: Thursday, August 8 2013, 06:03 PM CDT
Reported by: Donna Kirker Morgan

SUSQUEHANNA TOWNSHIP -- Her duplicated cells have been integral to modern day medicine and now her family will have a say in how the cells are used.

Henrietta Lacks's third cousin from Dauphin County is applauding the new agreement between Henrietta's descendants and the National Institutes of Health.

Earl Wilbourn says he is proud to be a relative to Henrietta, who died in 1951 from ovarian cancer.

Her cancer cells, however, were taken without permission -- which was common in that time period. 

The cells were the first to be easily duplicated in a laboratory and have been used around the world, helping to develop a polio vaccine, in-vitro fertilization and cancer research.

Millions of dollars have been made from the cells, as Henrietta's descendants continued to live in poverty. 

Now those descendants will be on a panel to determine how her cells -- known as HeLa cells -- will be used.

Wilbourn says the agreement is a start but believes the family should receive financial compensation.

Henrietta Lacks' descendants respond to NIH changes

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