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Who is Henrietta Lacks?

Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman who underwent treatment for an aggressive form of cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951. In addition to providing her with medical care, Henrietta’s doctor at Hopkins removed some of her cancerous cells to use in research without getting her written consent. (It’s important to note that at this time the practice of obtaining informed consent from cell or tissue donors was essentially unknown among academic medical centers.)

Despite receiving a high standard of medical treatment, Mrs. Lacks ultimately succumbed to this cancer at the young age of 31. However, her cells—called “HeLa" from the first two letters of her first and last names—remarkably continued to reproduce in the laboratory. Researchers around the world had been trying to identify or develop a standardized human cell line that could be reproduced in a laboratory setting; they knew that this kind of cell line would provide numerous opportunities to improve the human condition by allowing them to better understand, treat, and prevent a wide range of diseases. 

Because of their unique ability to reproduce indefinitely, HeLa cells have been instrumental in the development of the polio vaccine, cancer treatment protocols, AIDS research, and much more, and they continue to play an important role in medical advances worldwide.  (credit, Johns Hopkins Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (ICTR) website.)

What is the Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award?

The Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award was established in honor of former Turner Station resident and Johns Hopkins cancer patient Henrietta Lacks, whose cells helped make ground-breaking advances in medical research.   The Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute (UHI) offers this award to recognize, support, and promote exceptional programs which have been developed jointly by local community-based organizations and Johns Hopkins faculty and staff.

This $15,000 award highlights the importance of community-university collaborations, recognizes the accomplishments which can be achieved by such partnerships, and continues to support the efforts of the partnership.  The monetary gift will be given to the primary community partner in the collaboration.

To learn more about the award and how to submit a nomination, please click here.

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