Henrietta Lacks’ Immortal Cells


Unethical Racist Medicine

GPM # 30

Henrietta Lacks — not a household name.

Lacks was a black woman. The daughter of Virginia sharecroppers, she ended up in Baltimore. There, around the age of thirty, she came down with cervical cancer. In the course of surgery, in the ‘coloured ward’ at Johns Hopkins hospital, unbeknownst to her, a piece of her cervix was removed, then passed along to a medical researcher.

Henrietta Lacks (Courtesy Lacks family)

Henrietta Lacks died of her cancer. Her cells turned out to be immortal, doing what no line of cultured human cells had ever done: reproduce indefinitely in lab dishes.

HeLa cells, as they came to be known, revolutionized biomedical research. Among the advances they leveraged — the polio vaccine, treatment for sickle cell anemia and in vitro fertilization.

HeLa cells also generated huge profit for a company called Thermo Fisher Scientific. The Lacks family never saw a penny. Indeed, advanced medical treatments made possible by HeLa cells were beyond their means. In 2021, the Lacks family launched a lawsuit against Thermo Fisher. In early August, the case was settled for an undisclosed sum.

I spoke about Henrietta Lacks and medical racism in America with Dorothy Roberts. Roberts is Professor of Law and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, and the director of the Penn Program on Race, Science & Society at U. Penn’s Center for Africana Studies.

Listen to our conversation in today’s podcast. Click on the play button above, or go here.

Listen my complete conversation with Dorothy Roberts here:

Courtesy: Aghirin’man

Uranium mining is not the business it used to be. What with Fukushima and the shift to clean wind and solar, fewer reactors are being built and more are being decommissioned.

What’s a profit-hungry uranium mining company to do? Head to Niger, in north-central Africa. It’s the world’s seventh largest producer of the radioactive element.

Icing on the cake – Nigerien environmental regulations are lax and weakly applied. Massive volumes of Nigerien uranium have been dug by French state-owned Orano, outside the northern town of Arlit.

Now, a pair of Canadian companies have arrived. At another spot near Arlit, Toronto-based Global Atomic is digging a shaft, aiming to market uranium — including to one of North America’s largest utilities — by 2025.

BC-based GoviEx has yet to begin exploiting one of the world’s largest uranium deposits, at Madaouela, also near Arlit. Niger is “mining-friendly,” GoviEx says.

I spoke about the uranium mining industry, uranium mining in Niger and these two Canadian companies with Gunter Wippel. Wippel is a veteran anti-nuclear campaigner in Germany and helps run a group called the Uranium Network.

Listen to our conversation in today’s podcast. Click on the play button above, or go here.

Thanks to Dan Weisenberger for his fabulous guitar instrumentals.