Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued a proclamation declaring Aug. 1 as Henrietta Lacks Day, in honor of the black woman whose cancer cells had been used in countless medical and scientific breakthroughs without her knowledge or consent.
The state where she resided until her death recognized her on what would have been her 97th birthday.
“Through her life and the medical advances gained by her immortal cells, diseases such as polio have been eradicated, and the human genome has been successfully mapped,” Hogan said.
Lacks’ cells, the first immortal human cell line in history, have helped pioneer landmark biomedical breakthroughs and continue to facilitate critical research.
To celebrate her life and contributions, the governor signed into law SB 328, which dedicates Broening Highway (MD-695A) between the Baltimore City/Baltimore County line and Maryland Avenue/Avon Beach Road in memory of her life.
Deputy Transportation Secretary R. Earl Lewis Jr. presented the proclamation at a dedication ceremony, where he was joined by elected officials and family members of Lacks.
The medical pioneer’s story first became known to the masses with the publication of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” in 2010 by Rebecca Skloot.
In April 2017, Oprah Winfrey starred in the movie titled after the book as her daughter Deborah Lacks.
The Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration unveiled the dedication sign along Broening Highway with attendees including Lacks’ son David Lacks Jr. and grandson Alfred Lacks Carter, state Sens. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam and Johnny Ray Salling, and representatives of the Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group.
Lacks died Oct. 4, 1951, at 31 from cervical cancer, leaving behind a husband and five children.
Astonished researchers saw that her cells, aptly named HeLa, lived for a long time outside of the body and reproduced rapidly under laboratory conditions. Since their discovery, HeLa cells have been used to advance the polio vaccination for human use, as well as research cancer, chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS, and numerous other diseases and disorders.
Many agree that the acknowledgement of Lack’s medical contribution to society cannot be overstated.
In June, the African-American Health Equity Summit in partnership with Susan G. Komen and Fund II Foundation launched a 13-city tour of a Lacks exhibit, featuring a conversation with her family exploring her life, patient consent and the rights over one’s own genetic material.
“This dedication sign will serve as a reminder for generations to come of the contributions to medicine made, thanks to Henrietta Lacks,” Hogan said.