Established in 2010 by Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the Foundation is inspired by the life of Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells—code named HeLa—were taken without her knowledge in 1951. They became one of the most important tools in medicine—with damaging consequences for her family, many of whom often struggled to get access to the very health care advances their mother’s cells helped make possible. Unfortunately, there are numerous examples of historic research studies conducted on individuals—particularly within minority communities—without their knowledge or consent. These include the Tuskegee Syphilis Studies, the Human Radiation Experiments, and others. The Henrietta Lacks Foundation seeks to provide assistance to individuals and their families who have been directly impacted by such research.
The Foundation also seeks to promote public discourse concerning the role that contributions of biological materials play in scientific research and disease prevention, as well as issues related to consent, and disparities in access to health care and research benefits, particularly for minorities and underserved communities.