2014 Marks the Fifth Annual Henrietta Lacks Lecture at Johns Hopkins
2014 Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture Video
(due to technical difficulties, the program begins at the 56:45 time mark)
The Johns Hopkins Institute for Clinical and Translational Research hosted the fifth annual Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture Saturday, honoring the memory of the woman whose cells have led to countless research breakthroughs since her death 63 years ago.
Dorothy Roberts, author of Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Century, delivered the event’s keynote address.
Roberts, a University of Pennsylvania professor of Law, Africana Studies and Sociology, cited Lacks’ case to address the topic of justice in science and medicine. She urged celebration of the scientific advances made possible by Lacks’ cells. “But we should celebrate just as much the lessons in justice that their story teaches us,” Roberts said Saturday.
Roberts contends that, historically, scientists have presented race as a biological difference, fostering unnecessary inequalities. Roberts says that Lacks’ cells “helped improve the health of people from every race, everywhere in the world. They weren’t relegated to the ‘colored ward’ of the hospital. They testify to our common humanity.”
Celebrating the contribution of Lacks and all patients who participate in studies at Johns Hopkins, Dan Ford, vice dean for clinical investigation, said Saturday that Lacks continues to contribute to science in surprising ways. “She and her family are demonstrating how we create a community of patients and researchers that learn from each other.”
Lacks died at the Johns Hopkins Hospital of cervical cancer. At Saturday’s lecture, Betty Chou, assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins, discussed advances made in cervical cancer research thanks to Lacks’ cells. She also addressed the disparities in deaths from the disease; African American and Hispanic women are far less likely to receive HPV vaccinations, which significantly reduce a woman’s risk of cervical cancer.
Henrietta Lacks was a young mother of five from eastern Baltimore County who, despite radiation treatment at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, died in 1951 of an aggressive cancer. In those days, doctors and scientists regularly used tissue samples for research purposes without patient consent.
The small tissue sample taken from Mrs. Lacks yielded cells that would help advance scientific and medical research for decades; where other samples bore cells that died in days or even hours, Lacks’ cells divided and lived on. To this day, HeLa cells — named for Henrietta Lacks — are advancing science and medicine all around the world. Rebecca Skloot’s book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks brought new attention to Lacks’ case and to issues around research ethics and patient consent.
The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and all the Johns Hopkins institutions are proud of — and grateful to be associated with — Henrietta Lacks and her family. Our research honors Lacks’ legacy and her contribution to science and medicine.
Communications Manager, Media Relations and Public Affairs
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Sr. Communications Specialist, Media Relations and Public Affairs
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Photo Credits: Joshua Franzos, Richard Zhu, Sherrie Fornoff, Candace Scott and Mina Attia