The new year often inspires us to reflect on our goals and priorities, an endeavor supported by a series of opportunities to recognize, learn about and celebrate different events and people. January was Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, February is Black History Month and March is Women’s History Month, including International Women’s Day on March 8. This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BreaktheBias, offering to challenge various the biases people face around the world, including gender and race. The subjects explored over these months are all central to the work of the Center, and among other things, illustrate the impact of marginalization and discrimination on health outcomes. The intersection of race, gender and reproductive health is perhaps best shown by the experience of Henrietta Lacks, the Black woman whose cervical cancer cells gave rise to the immortal “HeLa” cell line. HeLa cells have played an extraordinary role in scientific research, underlying multiple Nobel Prize-winning discoveries and enabling medical advances for polio, yet her contribution was not recognized until almost 60 years after her death, and her family lived in poverty while researchers achieve accolades and income from her cell line.
Henrietta Lacks’ legacy extends beyond her impact on biologic research. Her story illustrates the responsibility researchers and academics have to the individuals and populations that they are researching and the importance of trust and trustworthiness between researchers, participants and the community. Duke hosted an event to celebrate the life and contributions of Henrietta Lacks in August, which highlighted the need and commitment to rebuilding trust between researchers, health care providers and the community. Duke has shown its commitment to this through Moments to Movement, the initiative to combat racism and injustice across the health system and the community. One key goal and organizing feature is that the research represents the needs of the community, is led by members of the community and that participants represent the population being studied. Duke was awarded $2.4 million from the NIH to support community engagement programs and practices aimed at addressing barriers to research participation, increasing diversity in clinical research, building community trust, and reducing health disparities. This will expand opportunities and build on the existing community-based research that exists across Duke, especially within the DGHI, which expanded to include Durham as a priority partnership location. This month’s newsletter includes an interview with DGHI’s Dr. Sumi Ariely, in which she describes her community partnerships to carry out work in reproductive health in both Durham and abroad. This will kickstart the Center’s increased attention to local partnerships and opportunities, which we hope to share with you over the coming semester.