U.S House Votes to Pass ‘Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act’ 

Congressman Kweisi Mfume of Maryland leads impassioned floor debate

(WASHINGTON – December 10, 2020) -​ The U.S House of Representatives passed the “Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act,’ appropriately named after the 31-year-old Black woman widely regarded as the ‘Mother of Modern Medicine.’The bill, which passed in the House yesterday, aims to confront healthcare disparities by making cancer clinical trials more racially diverse. Currently, 1 in 5 clinical trials fail because of low enrollment from racial minorities. More adequate representation would give medical researchers a better understanding of how different drugs affect different populations.

“Henrietta Lacks’ DNA has helped spur countless medical breakthroughs for years and counting. Every single one of us has in some way benefited from her life, but many of us don’t even know it. This bill honors her life and legacy by working to make sure underrepresented communities are counted and protected in clinical trials,” Congressman Mfume stated.

Rep. Mfume, the bill’s sponsor, led the floor debate. In his remarks, the Congressman highlighted Mrs. Lacks’s life and lasting contributions to medicine. In a previously shared ​statement​, the Congressman discussed what he believes is a primary reason for the lack of diversity and trust in medical research.

“I believe the most profound reason for low enrollment begins and lies with the horrific Tuskegee study of 1972 in which hundreds of unwitting Black men suffered and died needlessly as part of an unethical and inhumane medical experiment. Historical cases of exploitation and deceptive medical practices are a major source of distrust in government research,” Congressman Mfume stated. “In other instances, patients cannot dedicate the time and resources required to participate in trials. And in some cases, doctors don’t ask. Whatever the case, we have to get a better understanding of where the barriers exist so we know how to address them.”

The issue of inadequate representation in medical research is especially timely as recent ​reports​highlight how Black Americans appear to be more reluctant to take the COVID-19 vaccines compared to other racial groups.

“Whether it was the Pfizer trial or the Moderna trial, one thing is clear – there have never been enough people of ethnic backgrounds (particularly African Americans and Latinos) participating in these trials,” Congressman Mfume shared during his remarks. “COVID-19 is a disease with a roughly two-fold higher rate of diagnosis and mortality for African Americans compared to other populations. This really stresses the need for a more diverse research participatory effort in order to understand and comprehensively deal with (and cure) these diseases.”

The Congressman ended his remarks by paying homage to his friend, the late Congressman Elijah Cummings who had originally introduced the bill last March, months before his untimely death. Other members of the chamber used their time on the floor to honor Mr. Cummings and share personal stories of cancer patients in their districts and families.

To see the full clip of the remarks click ​here​.

For more background on the Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act view the previous ​release​.