Johns Hopkins names research building after Henrietta Lacks

Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University will name a new research building after Henrietta Lacks, whose immortal cells have contributed to several medical breakthroughs and controversies.

The new building, which will be located adjacent to the university's Berman Institute of Bioethics, will focus on research to promote ethics and community engagement. Construction on the building is expected to start in 2020 and end in 2022.

"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."

Ms. Lacks came to Johns Hopkins for cancer treatment in 1951 and a sample of her cells were taken during a biopsy. During that time a researcher found that Ms. Lack's cells were unlike any others he'd seen. Where other cells would die, Ms. Lacks' cells survived and would double every 20 to 24 hours. The researcher began sharing the cells with others around the world.  Ms. Lacks' cells have contributed to several medical breakthroughs including the development of the polio vaccine, the study of leukemia and AIDS and research into the effects of zero gravity in space.

Ms. Lacks' cells, dubbed "HeLa cells" by the scientific community, have been the center of an ongoing controversy over whether the family should receive financial proceeds. In addition, they have sparked controversy because Ms. Lacks did not give consent to use her cells.

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