Black ExperienceBlack History

Henrietta Lacks’ Name to Grace Building on Johns Hopkins Campus

A new interdisciplinary building to be constructed in 2020 on the campus of Johns Hopkins University’s East Baltimore campus will be named in honor of Henrietta Lacks, a poor Black tobacco farmer whose cells were taken without her knowledge.

Lacks, a Roanoke, Va., native, came to Johns Hopkins for cancer treatment in 1951, and after taking a sample of her cancer cells, researchers discovered that where other cells would die, Lacks’ cells survived, and the number of cells would double on a daily basis. As a result, Lacks became one of the most important tools in medicine, with her cells being used for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more – including AIDS research.

In 2013, Johns Hopkins worked with members of the Lacks family and the National Institutes of Health to help broker an agreement that requires researchers to get permission to use her genetic blueprint in NIH-funded research. Today, the NIH committee includes two members of the Lacks family.

Lacks’ new namesake building will support programs that enhance participation and partnership with members of the community in research that can benefit the community. It will also create opportunities to study and promote research ethics and community engagement in research.

“This building will be a place that stands as an enduring and powerful testament to a woman who not only was the beloved mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother to generations of the Lacks family, but the genesis of generations of miraculous discoveries that have changed the landscape of modern medicine and that have benefited, in truth, the much larger family of humanity,” said Johns Hopkins President Ronald Daniels.

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