Historical Timeline

DATE   EVENT

1889

  Johns Hopkins Hospital is founded.

1912

  Alexis Carrel claims to have successfully grown “immortal” chicken-heart cells.


1920

  Henrietta Lacks is born in Roanoke, Virginia.

1947

  The Nuremberg Code, a set of ethical standards for human experimentation, is produced as the result of a trial against several Nazi doctors who conducted experiments on prisoners during World War II.

1951

  George Gey successfully cultures the first immortal human cell line using cells from Henrietta Lacks’s cervix. It is given the name HeLa after the first two initials of Henrietta’s first and last names.

1951

  Henrietta Lacks dies of an unusually aggressive strain of cervical cancer.

1952

  HeLa cells become the first living cells shipped via postal mail.


1952

  The Tuskegee Institute opens the first “HeLa factory,” supplying cells to laboratories and researchers and operating as a nonprofit. Within a few years, a company named Microbiological Associates would begin selling HeLa for profit.

1952

  Scientists use HeLa cells to help develop the polio vaccine.

1953

  HeLa cells become the first cells ever cloned.

1954

  The pseudonym “Helen Lane” first appears in print as the source of HeLa cells.

1954

  Chester Southam begins to conduct experiments without patient consent to see whether or not injections of HeLa cells could cause cancer.

1957

  The term “informed consent” first appears in court documents.

1965

  HeLa cells are fused with mouse cells, creating the first animal-human hybrid cells.

1965

  The Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York finds Southam and a colleague guilty of unprofessional conduct and calls for stricter guidelines regarding human research subjects and informed consent.


1966

  To ensure adherence to the new guidelines for research involving human subjects, the National Institute of Health (NIH) begins requiring the approval of Institutional Review Boards for any research they fund.

1966

  Stanley Gartler drops the “HeLa bomb” and proposes that HeLa cells have contaminated numerous cell lines.

1970

  George Gey dies of pancreatic cancer.

1971

  In a tribute to Gey, Henrietta Lacks is correctly identified for the first time in print as the source of HeLa.

1973

  The Lacks family learns for the first time that Henrietta’s cells are still alive.

1973

  Researchers from Johns Hopkins take samples from Henrietta’s children to further HeLa research, without informed consent.

1974

  The Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (the Common Rule) requires informed consent for all human-subject research.

1975

  Michael Rogers publishes an article about HeLa and the Lacks family in Rolling Stone. The Lacks family learns for the first time that Henrietta’s cells have been commercialized.

1984

  John Moore unsuccessfully sues his doctor and the Board of Regents of he University of California for property rights over his tissues. Moore appeals the decision.


1985

  Portions of Henrietta’s medical records are published without her family’s knowledge or consent.

1988

  The California Court of Appeals rules in John Moore’s favor, saying that patients must have the power to control what becomes of their own tissues. Moore’s doctors and the University of California appeal.

1991

  The Supreme Court of California rules against John Moore, saying that once tissues are removed from the body, with or without consent, a person no longer owns those tissues.

1996

  The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act makes it illegal for healthcare providers or health insurers to make personal medical information public.

1999

  The RAND Corporation publishes a report with a “conservative estimate” that more than 307million tissue samples from more than 178 million people are stored in the United States alone. The majority of the samples were taken without consent.

2005

  Members of the Native American Havasupai tribe sue Arizona State University after scientists take tissue samples the tribe donated for diabetes research and use them without consent to study schizophrenia and inbreeding.

2005

  Six thousand patients join a lawsuit against Washington University, demanding that the university remove their tissue samples from its prostate-cancer bank. Two courts later rule against the patients.

2005

  By this date, the U.S. government has issued patents relating to the use of about 20 percent of known human genes, including genes for Alzheimers, asthma, colon cancer, and, most famously, breast cancer.

2006

  An NIH researcher is charged with violating a federal conflict-of-interest law for providing thousands of tissue samples to the pharmaceutical company Pfizer in exchange for about half a million dollars.

2009

  The National Institute of Health invests $13.5 million to develop a bank for fetal blood samples.

2009

  Parents in Minnesota and Texas sue to stop the nationwide practice of storing and conducting research—without consent—on fetal blood samples, many of which can be traced back to the infants they came from.

2009

  More than 150,000 scientists join the American Civil Liberties Union and breast-cancer patients in suing Myriad Genetics over its breast-cancer gene patents. The suit claims that the practice of gene patenting violates patent law and has inhibited scientific research.