2019 Brings Us One Step Closer: Johns Hopkins Selects Architect For Early-Stage Planning Of Multidisciplinary Building In Honor Of Henrietta Lacks

Building will honor legacy of the Baltimore County woman whose cells continue to advance medicine around the world.

Dr. Daniel Ford shows the audience the proposed building location. Photo credit: Richard Zhu

After a rigorous vetting process, Johns Hopkins University officials announced their selection of Vines Architecture to lead the planning stages, known as a feasibility study, for a multidisciplinary building that will honor the legacy of Henrietta Lacks.

The firm was introduced by Dan Ford, vice dean for clinical investigation at the school of medicine during the 10th annual Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture, which honors the legacy of Mrs. Henrietta Lacks, whose cells have contributed to many medical advances, from development of the polio vaccine to the study of HPV, HIV/AIDS and leukemia.

“Vines Architecture has been an excellent collaborator in helping us identify effective ways to incorporate the community perspective into a building that will be designed to create new research collaborations,” Ford said.

The building will occupy the site adjacent to the Berman Institute of Bioethics’ Deering Hall, located at the corner of Ashland Ave. and Rutland Ave., north of The Johns Hopkins Hospital and in the heart of the Eager Park community. The building will support programs that enhance participation and partnership with members of the community in research that can benefit the community, as well as extend the opportunities to further study and promote research ethics and community engagement in research through an expansion of the Berman Institute of Bioethics and its work.

“The legacy of Henrietta Lacks is simultaneously scientific, historical and social,” said Paul B. Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. “This building is a monument to the impact she has had in all of these domains. The story of Henrietta Lacks and Johns Hopkins is a story of the close relationship between our institution and the community around it. This event and the symposium reminds us that we work in partnership with this community, and this city.”

Vines Architecture, an award-winning architecture firm based in Raleigh, North Carolina, has consistently exhibited design excellence on numerous projects, with  distinguished expertise in libraries, museums and cultural institutions as well as educational and university facilities.

Architect Victor Vines, founder of Vines Architecture, led the Phase One Programming & Planning Phase team that produced the research and decision-making programming for the design of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture. Vershae Hite, architect and project designer with Vines also worked on the National Museum of African American History and Culture prior to joining Vines. At Vines Architecture, Victor also works with design director Bob Thomas on transformative projects such as the North Carolina A&T State University New Student Center and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts & Culture in Charlotte, both of which have won awards from the American Institute of Architects.

“Working with Johns Hopkins and Vines Architecture has been an awesome experience,” said Jeri Lacks granddaughter of Henrietta Lacks. “It means a lot to us that they have included our family in this process. Our input will help ensure that my grandmother’s personality is present in the building.”

Groundbreaking is anticipated for 2020, with planned completion in 2022.

First discovered when Lacks was a patient at Johns Hopkins in 1951, the HeLa cells are a remarkably durable and prolific line of cells developed by Johns Hopkins researcher George Gey during Henrietta Lacks’ treatment for cancer.

A sample of Lacks’ cancer cells was retrieved during a biopsy and sent to Gey’s nearby tissue lab, where he had been collecting cells from patients who came to The Johns Hopkins Hospital with cervical cancer. He discovered Lacks’ cells were unlike any of the others he had seen: Where other cells would die, Lacks’ cells survived, and the number of cells would double every 20 to 24 hours. Soon after that, he began sharing the cells, at no cost, with researchers around the world.

Although many other cell lines are in use today, over the past several decades, the HeLa cell line has contributed to many medical breakthroughs.

In 2013, Johns Hopkins worked with members of the Lacks family and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help broker an agreement that requires scientists to receive permission to use Henrietta Lacks’ genetic blueprint in NIH-funded research.

The NIH committee tasked with overseeing the use of HeLa cells now includes two members of the Lacks family. The medical research community has also made significant strides in improving research practices, in part thanks to the lessons learned from Henrietta Lacks’ story.


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