Lacks family speaks to students: Henrietta Lacks, her cells commandeered for research, was immortalized in a best-seller
Article by Michelle Hines
The granddaughter and daughter-in-law of the late Henrietta Lacks, a poor African-American woman whose cells were used in medical research unbeknownst to her or her family, will speak and answer questions Sunday, Aug. 18, in UNCG’s Aycock Auditorium.
The moderated discussion with the Lacks family is part of the Chancellor’s New Student Convocation, which begins at 3 p.m. All incoming students are required to attend the convocation, and the event is not open to the public because of limited space.
Incoming UNCG freshman are reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by journalist Rebecca Skloot, the latest First-Year Summer Read selection. Jeri Whye Lacks, Henrietta Lacks’ granddaughter, and Shirley Lacks, Henrietta Lacks’ daughter-in-law, will speak to students as part of campus programming related to the book.
Skloot’s book chronicles how Lacks’ cells, dubbed HeLa, were used to develop the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.
Lacks, a Southern tobacco farmer and mother of five, died in 1951 of cervical cancer. She never agreed that cells from a biopsy should be used for research, and her family was unaware for many years that the cells were used by scientists, generating billions of dollars. This spring, Lacks’ family learned that her genome had been sequenced and made public for anyone to see.
The Lacks family made national headlines earlier this month when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a new agreement requiring application and approval to access the genome data. Two members of the Lacks family will also serve on the NIH panel that grants researchers access to the HeLa cells.
For a full list of campus events related to the Henrietta Lacks story, visit http://yourfirstyear.uncg.edu/newsletter/summer-2013-2/first-year-summer-read-events/.