In 1951, doctors at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore took cell samples from Henrietta Lack's, a black woman suffering from aggressive cervical cancer, while diagnosing and treating her disease. They gave some of that tissue to researchers without her consent, who later discovered that the cell were "immortal," able to reproduce and survive under almost any condition. Later named HeLa cells, this discovery helped scientists produce remedies for several diseases, including the first polio vaccine and the recent COVID vaccines.
Yesterday it was announced that the descendants of Henrietta Lacks are suing the pharmaceutical company Thermo Fisher Scientific, which has made billions of dollars in profit off the HeLa cell line and demanding reparations and the intellectual property of those cells. Today's action is to learn more about Henrietta Lacks' story in this 2011 op-ed in the NY Times.