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Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act of 2019

Floor Speech

Date: Dec. 9, 2020
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. RUPPERSBERGER. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 1966, and I thank the gentleman for yielding.

I proudly co-led this bill when it was first introduced by our late friend, Elijah Cummings, in honor of the extraordinary life and legacy of a Baltimore native, Henrietta Lacks.

Although Congressman Cummings has passed on and remains deeply missed, I am proud and grateful that Congressman Mfume has picked up the mantle on this important legislation.

Without her knowledge or permission, doctors used Henrietta Lacks' cells for medical research that eventually led to some of medicine's most critical breakthroughs, including development of the polio vaccine, along with treatments for cancer, HIV/AIDS, leukemia, and Parkinson's.

I can think of only a handful of Marylanders or even Americans who have contributed more to modern medicine than Henrietta Lacks. Her lifesaving contributions will continue to advance cures for debilitating diseases for generations to come.

Yet more than 70 years after Henrietta Lacks' death, many communities still face glaring health disparities. For example, while cancer incidence rates are highest among non-Hispanic White females, non- Hispanic Black females have the highest rate of death.

Clinical trials are a key component to advancing cancer research and treatment, but 20 percent of cancer clinical trials fail because of a lack of patient enrollment, with racial and ethnic minorities and older, rural, and lower-income Americans generally underrepresented in such trials.

This bill examines access to government-funded cancer clinical trials for traditionally underrepresented groups, but it is also about much more.

It is about giving credit where credit has been long overdue, it is about ensuring all Americans get the medical treatments they deserve, and it is about ensuring clinical trials succeed because they are inclusive.

Mr. Speaker, I urge all of my colleagues to support this bill.

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