Slatest PM: Henrietta Lacks' Famous Cells Are Finally Protected

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 7 2013 3:59 PM

Slatest PM: Henrietta Lacks' Famous Cells Are Finally Protected

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A medicall assistant examines virus-infected cells under a microscope

File photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images

Deal Reached on "Immortal" Cells: Reuters: "The National Institutes of Health announced on Wednesday that it had reached an agreement with the family of the late Henrietta Lacks, the African-American woman whose cancer cells scientists took without her permission 62 years ago and used to create an endlessly replicating cell line now used in countless labs worldwide. Under the unprecedented pact, a grandson and a great-granddaughter of Lacks, whose story was told in the 2010 best-selling book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, will help decide which biomedical researchers will have access to the complete genome data in cells derived from her cervical tumor, called HeLa cells. That data—which can be used to infer medical and other information about Lacks' family—will be stored in a secure, NIH-controlled database."

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It's About Time: Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., is the head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, for NBC News: "The new understanding between the NIH and the Lacks family does not include any financial compensation for the family. The Lacks family hasn’t, and won’t, see a dime of the profits that came from the findings generated by HeLa cells. But this is a moral and ethical victory for a family long excluded from any acknowledgment and involvement in genetic research their matriarch made possible. It took more than 60 years, but ethics has finally caught up to a particularly fast-moving area of science: taking tissue samples for genetic research. Thanks to the efforts of a dogged journalist, some very thoughtful science leaders in Europe and the U.S., and an ordinary family willing to learn about a complex subject and then to do the right thing to help you and me and our descendants, a long-standing wrong has now been fixed."

It's Wednesday. Welcome to the Slatest PM, where we’re rounding up the day’s top stories and hoping there's no shark on our commute home. Follow me, your afternoon news guide, on Twitter at @s_brodez and the whole team at @slatest.

Yemen Terror Plot Thwarted: Washington Post: "Yemeni authorities say they have thwarted a bold plot by al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch to disrupt this country’s economic lifeline by attacking two strategic southern ports and oil and gas facilities. It was not immediately clear whether the foiled plot was the attack alluded to in communications intercepted by intelligence agencies last week. U.S. intelligence officials are skeptical the danger has passed and said they remain on high alert. The intercepted messages — indicating that al-Qaeda’s leader has urged the group’s Yemen affiliate to attack Western targets — prompted U.S. officials to temporarily shut down embassies across the Middle East and North Africa, a highly unusual move."

Saudis Seek Deal With Russians Over Assad Support: Reuters: "Saudi Arabia has offered Russia economic incentives including a major arms deal and a pledge not to challenge Russian gas sales if Moscow scales back support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Middle East sources and Western diplomats said on Wednesday. The proposed deal between two of the leading power brokers in Syria's devastating civil war was set out by Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week, they said."

330 Tons: NBC News: "Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday ordered increased efforts to stop radiation-contaminated water from spilling into the Pacific Ocean from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant. A government official told reporters Wednesday that an estimated 300 metric tons (330 tons) of contaminated water was leaking into the ocean every day from the Daiichi plant, which was devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Reuters reported. The official also said the government believed the leaks had been happening for two years."

No Deal in Egypt: New York Times: "Egypt’s interim president said Wednesday that diplomats had failed to broker an agreement between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military-backed government to end the country’s five-week-old political crisis. Envoys from the United States, the European Union and other countries had been working intensively to bring the two sides together since July 27, when Egypt’s security services fired live ammunition at supporters of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s ousted president, killing 80 people."

Flood of Gay Marriage Suits: NBC News: "A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in late June has encouraged gay couples to challenge bans on same-sex marriage in states across the country. 'It's raining lawsuits,' said one lawyer involved in several of the cases. The legal storm follows the Supreme Court's June 26 decision striking down DOMA... Now, new challenges to state provisions that ban permitting or recognizing same-sex marriage have been filed by gay couples in six states: Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia."

More Filner Accusations: Politico: "The 11th woman to accuse San Diego Mayor Bob Filner of sexual harassment — and the second to be represented by celebrity attorney Gloria Allred — came forward at a news conference Tuesday. Michelle Tyler, a nurse, alleged that Filner asked her to engage in a personal and sexual relationship in exchange for his help in the case of U.S. Marine Katherine Ragazzino, who was wounded in Iraq. 'He made it very clear that his expectation was that his help for Katherine depended on my willingness to go to dinner with him, spend personal time with him and be seen in public with him,' Tyler said at the news conference."

A Few More Quick Hits from Slate:

That's all for today. See you back here tomorrow. Until next time, tell your friends to subscribe, or simply forward the newsletter on and let them make up their own minds.

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