Johns Hopkins University to Name a New Building After Henrietta Lacks

A new interdisciplinary building on Johns Hopkins University’s East Baltimore campus will be named in honor of Henrietta Lacks, who was the source of the HeLa cell line that has been critical to numerous significant advances in modern medicine.

Henrietta Lacks came to Johns Hopkins for cancer treatment in 1951. After taking a sample of her cancer cells, researchers discovered that her cells were very unique. Where other cells would die, Lacks’ cells survived, and the number of cells would double every day. Her cell line, named HeLa, has contributed to many medical breakthroughs including the development of the polio vaccine, the study of Leukemia and AIDS, and research into the effects of zero gravity in outer space.

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 Henrietta Lacks’ genetic blueprint in NIH-funded research. Today, the NIH committee now 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.

President of Johns Hopkins Ronald J Daniels stated, “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 benefitted, in truth, the much larger family of humanity.”

The construction is scheduled to begin in 2020 with an anticipated completion in 2022.

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