A New Chapter in the Legacy of Henrietta Lacks
More than 500 community members and Johns Hopkins employees gathered with members of the Henrietta Lacks family to honor a woman whose contributions continue to further science more than 60 years after her death.
The Third Annual Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture, featured a lecture by science journalist and author David Ewing Duncan, presentations from Johns Hopkins leadership and the awarding of a new educational scholarship named after Mrs. Lacks. The half-day event, which, concluded with a lunch reception and book signing, was held October 6th in Turner Auditorium.
Keynote speaker David Ewing Duncan gave a talk on the potential of personalized medicine through the lens of his experience undergoing genomic sequencing and extensive medical testing while writing Experimental Man: What One Man’s Body Reveals about His Future. We’re now moving into an era where we as individuals can participate in this research and in unlocking the secrets hidden within our body and cells, said Duncan, who has authored eight books and written for national media outlets like The Atlantic and National Geographic.
Dan Ford, Hopkins vice dean for clinical investigation and ICTR director, emphasized the vital role that research participants like Henrietta Lacks play in finding cures for disease. He pointed out that the HeLa cell line developed from a sample collected during Mrs. Lacks treatment for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins in 1951 has helped to develop the polio vaccine and cancer treatment protocols, as well as to advance AIDS research.
For those suffering with diseases, the process to find new cures cannot go fast enough, Ford said. Many of us at Johns Hopkins work to balance the need for research to go fast with the rights of research participants every day. Ford noted that satisfaction surveys, workshops to enhance the safety of clinical trials and meetings with East Baltimore community members are among the ICTRs most recent efforts to enhance the partnership between scientists and study participants.
Paul B. Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, who participated in the lecture for the first time, said he was proud of the institutions many efforts to recognize Henrietta Lacks, including a new timeline display at Hopkins Hospital that features Mrs. Lacks among the institutions pioneers of medicine. Rothman also acknowledged the instrumental role that HeLa cells played in his own career as a molecular immunologist.
Damisha Hazelton was named the first recipient of the Henrietta Lacks Dunbar Health Sciences Scholarship. Awarded annually to a rising senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School who is interested in pursuing a career in science, the scholarship will provide mentorship and up to $40,000 in college tuition. I want to change the world for the better, just as Henrietta Lacks did, Hazelton said. The 17-year-old winner plans to major in psychology and someday work with homeless youth.
Other highlights of the event included the presentation of the Urban Health Institutes second Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award to Moveable Feast, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that provides meals to homebound individuals living with HIV/AIDS or cancer, and an update from the Lacks family on The Lacks Family HeLa Foundation. Also, Pamela Zeitlin, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Cystic Fibrosis Center, shared how a cell line developed from a research participant has improved treatment for cystic fibrosis patients.
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