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Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM)

Washington, D.C. – U.S. House Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) issued the following statement after the House passed legislation recognizing the contributions of Henrietta Lacks to medical research, and requiring a study on barriers to participation in federally funded cancer clinical trials by people of color and other underrepresented groups.

“The last seventy years of advances in medical research and treatments are inextricably linked to Henrietta Lacks’ legacy. Her cells, taken without her consent, played an essential role in developing a polio vaccine, achieving medical breakthroughs in cancer and HIV/AIDS, and mapping the human genome. Even today, HeLa cells are being used by scientists to better understand COVID-19.

“It’s long past time that Congress recognizes the contributions of Henrietta Lacks and works to address the barriers that keep people of color from participating in important medical research that impacts their health. I was proud to support Congressman Mfume’s legislation, and I hope Congress will take action on further legislation, like my CLINICAL TREATMENT Act, to ensure all Americans can access clinical trials.”


Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman, was just 31 years old when she died of cervical cancer in 1951. While undergoing cancer treatment, doctors at the John’s Hopkins Hospital took samples of her tumor cells without her or her family’s consent. Unlike other cells extracted at the time and largely afterwards, Lacks’ cells survived and multiplied outside of the body. Her miracle cells, dubbed “HeLa cells,” were used to test and then further develop the polio vaccine and have advanced treatments for cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and other diseases.

According to the American Cancer Society, at least 20% of cancer clinical trials fail because of low enrollment from minorities. The Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act directs the Government Accountability Office to review barriers to participation in cancer clinical trials by populations that have been traditionally underrepresented in research and to outline policy options to make these federally-funded cancer trials more racially inclusive and therefore more effective.