After exploiting her for research, Johns Hopkins University to name building after Henrietta Lacks
Johns Hopkins University announced plans to name its newest interdisciplinary building after Henreitta Lacks during its ninth annual Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture on Saturday morning. The building is expected to be completed in 2022 and a groundbreaking ceremony will occur in 2020 according to Johns Hopkins Magazine.
Lacks was a cancer patient at Johns Hopkins in 1951 when a sample of her cells was taken during a biopsy that would forever change medical research. Doctors discovered that where other cells would die, Lacks’ would survive and then double every 20 to 24 hours. Hopkins shared her cells with other researchers around the world, and Lacks’ cell line, which was named HeLa, has contributed to many breakthroughs such as the development of the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, and in vitro fertilization.
Rebecca Skloot’s 2010 book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which would later by adapted into an HBO film starring Oprah Winfrey, exposed Lacks’ life story and contributions to medical science to a national audience, and sparked a much-needed discourse on bioethics. Following in a long line of medical exploitation of Black women, Lacks gave no consent to harvest her cells, and her family wasn’t even made aware of its medical and commercial use until 1975, 24 years after the biopsy.
However, the Lacks family signs off to the building in her honor, and it is just the latest collaboration between between them and the esteemed university since 2010.
Johns Hopkins president Ronald J. Daniels made the announcement, telling the crowd, “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.”