Posted in Messages
Dear Johns Hopkins Community:
Earlier today, we were thrilled to join members of the Henrietta Lacks family in announcing the Johns Hopkins University’s plans to construct and name a new building on the medical campus in East Baltimore in honor of Henrietta Lacks.
Henrietta Lacks, through her life and her immortal cell line, had an immeasurable impact on medical science, touched countless lives around the world, and contributed to the transformation of the ethical standards that must always undergird scientific inquiry.
As many in our university community know, Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year-old mother of five when she sought treatment for an aggressive cervical cancer at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951. Additional tissue samples were taken during a biopsy—a common practice with all cervical cancer patients at the time—and sent to the lab of Dr. George Gey, who soon found in those samples the first “immortal” human cell line, now widely known as HeLa cells. This extraordinary cell line was shared with scientists around the world and has contributed to medical advances, from the development of the polio vaccine, to the study of leukemia and other cancers, to the fight to stem the scourge of the AIDS virus. 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.
Our announcement was part of the Ninth Annual Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture, which has become a signature event for Johns Hopkins and the East Baltimore community, drawing over one thousand people each year to learn and reflect on the legacy of Henrietta Lacks. Meeting members of the Lacks family is a highlight of the symposium every year, and today we marked together the journey for our institution and the debt of gratitude we owe to the Lacks family for their willingness to collaborate with us and with the National Institutes of Health, among many others, to advance lifesaving medical research.
The new building will adjoin the Berman Institute of Bioethics’ Deering Hall and will face the northern end of Eager Park, serving as an entryway to the community. It also will be a vibrant place of learning, discovery and dialogue, supporting programs that facilitate community-oriented medical research and an expansion of the study and promotion of research ethics at the Berman Institute.
In short, this building will be an enduring testament to a woman who was not only the beloved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother to generations of a remarkable family, but also the genesis of miraculous discoveries that have changed the landscape of modern medicine and benefitted the much larger family of humanity.
Once again, we offer our thanks to the members of the Lacks family for their generosity of spirit in lending Henrietta Lacks’ name to this building. And we thank as well the members of our Baltimore community—especially our neighbors in East Baltimore—who have lent their time and insight to the important work of community partnerships and to Henrietta Lacks’ legacy.
In the room today, we felt a profound moment of possibility—one of healing, understanding and progress not only for one family and one institution, but also for our city. We hope this building—and the collaborative, community-oriented work that goes on within it—will lead us toward many more.
Ronald J. Daniels
The Johns Hopkins University
Paul B. Rothman, M.D.
Dean of the Medical Faculty
CEO, Johns Hopkins Medicine