US lawmakers have introduced a new legislation, the Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act, which would examine access to government-funded cancer clinical trials.

The bill will examine how this access affects traditionally underrepresented groups.

It has been introduced by Representatives Elijah Cummings, Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes along with Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin.

Henrietta Lacks was a woman who died in 1951 of cervical cancer.  During her treatment, doctors took samples of her tumour cells and used them to create HeLa cell line.

The cell line was used for the development of the polio vaccine as well as cancer, HIV/AIDS, leukemia and Parkinson’s disease therapies.

The new bill is intended to honour Lacks and urges the Government Accountability Office to write a report on the barriers that traditionally underrepresented communities face to participate in federally-funded cancer trials.

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This information is expected to help in improving the diversity of participants in cancer trials.

Cummings said: “Henrietta Lacks changed the world, and millions of people have benefited from her remarkable HeLa cells and their contributions to medicine.

“However, while the cell line became famous, the woman who provided it was not recognised-a disparity that is wrong, and sadly affects far too many women of colour.

“Armed with this information, we can continue to advance research and cancer care in a way that is inclusive of all individuals.”

The lawmakers noted that approximately 20% of cancer studies fail due to lack of patient enrollment, with racial and ethnic minorities, older and rural people often underrepresented.

Congressman Sarbanes added: “We must ensure that underrepresented communities are equally represented in clinical trials, so that lifesaving cancer treatments and remedies are accessible to all Americans.”