Johns Hopkins University to Name Building After Henrietta Lacks

Johns Hopkins University says it will honor Henrietta Lacks, the African-American woman whose cancer cells continue to have an impact on medicine more than 60 years after they were taken without her consent.

The school announced Saturday it would name a new building after Lacks on its medical campus in East Baltimore.

The announcement was part of the 9th Annual Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture, which the university said has drawn about a thousand people each year to learn and reflect on Lacks' legacy.

Lacks, a young African-American mother of five from Virginia, died in 1951 after being diagnosed with cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

As told in Rebecca Skloot's best-selling book, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," doctors took cells from Lacks without her knowing during her cancer treatment. They discovered the cells' remarkable ability to keep growing —something that had never been seen before.

They called them HeLa cells for the first two letters of her first and last name. The unique cells helped doctors develop the polio vaccine and lead to breakthroughs in cancer and AIDS research.

"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," Johns Hopkins University President Ronald Daniels said in the announcement about the new building.

The 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, Daniels said.

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