Johns Hopkins University says it will honor Henrietta Lacks with a new building over 60 years after the university took her cells without her consent.
Lacks was a black patient at Johns Hopkins University Hospital that was diagnosed with cervical cancer in the 1950s. But while under their care, her cells were used without her consent to create HeLa cells, the first-ever strain of self-replicating cells.
HeLa cells have been used in some of the most important medical discoveries and research of our times. It was only once Rebecca Skloot’s book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,
was published in 2010 that Lacks’ story gained national attention. Oprah Winfrey produced and starred in a 2016 HBO biopic of Lacks’ life.
Since then, members of Lacks’ family have demanded some sort of compensation
, especially from Johns Hopkins.
The newly named building, located on the university’s medical campus in East Baltimore, appears to be an effort by the school to appease the family’s call for compensation. The announcement was part of the 9th Annual Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture, NBC 4
“Yet, for decades, even as Johns Hopkins and other major research institutions relied on HeLa cells for innumerable studies and discoveries, the identity of the woman behind the cells was largely unknown, including to her own family,” Johns Hopkins University President Ronald Daniels said in the announcement about the new building.
Last year, the city of Baltimore designated October 4 as Henrietta Lacks Day to recognize the contributions of the woman behind the HeLa cells.