The story of a woman whose tissue cells have been used to help countless lives is chronicled in "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." Now her descendents are at Auburn University, where they are discussing Lacks' contribution to society.
Henrietta Lacks unknowingly changed the world of science when doctors took her tissue cells during cancer treatment in the 50s. Decades later her family found out just how much the tobacco worker left her imprint on the world.
Grandson David Lacks, Jr. says, "They were the first cells to multiply through the human body, so that led to countless scientific breakthroughs and research that actually advanced medical science by about 10 years."
The Lacks family beams with pride at Henrietta's legacy, but the underlying fact is that the miraculous multiplying cells were taken without her knowledge, which was a common practice among those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.
Dr. Ruth Faden is director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, and says, "We all want to get better cures and preventions for diseases and illnesses. The challenge now going forward is how to do the kind of science that needs to be done in a way that is completely respectful of the rights and interests of the people whose cells and tissues make the research possible."
Today the Lacks family travels the country talking about the best-selling book about Henrietta's contribution to polio, cloning and in vitro fertilization research. The "HeLa" cells have become the gold standard for medical cells worldwide and have helped countless lives.
Granddaughter Kim Lacks adds, "I'm proud that my grandmother's cells accomplished all that they have, but I still feel that it's something that they were trying to cover up."
You can join the Lacks conversation Thursday evening at 7 p.m. CDT in Foy Lecture Hall. David and Kim will be sharing their story and answering questions along with Dr. Fader.