CELLebrate Henrietta Lacks 


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Henrietta Lacks, wife, mother of five, and Mother of Modern Medicine changed the world with the gift of her immortal HeLa cells.

On August 1, 2020, join The Lacks Family at a virtual Symposium to launch a historic yearlong Centennial CELLebration honoring The Incontestable Impact of Henrietta Lacks on the occasion of her 100th birthday!

Through the generous support of our collaborators and sponsors, registration for the #HeLa100 Centennial CELLebration Symposium is FREE!

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To further support the #HeLa100 Centennial CELLebration, click here to make a "purchase with purpose" to help educate future generations.

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Photo Credit:  Helen Wilson-Roe Henrietta’s Legacy

#HeLa100 Virtual Symposium Agenda

Saturday, August 1, 2020 | Online |  3 – 6 PM ET

3 - 4 PM ET | Centennial Conversation - CELLebrating The Incontestable Impact of Henrietta Lacks: Learn from Henrietta’s descendants and special guests about their work to honor her legacy, current activities and collaborations with the health care, scientific, advocacy and artistic communities.

4 - 5 PM ET | #CELLebrate #HeLa100 Twitter Chat: Join us on Twitter @CELLebrateHeLa and share using #HeLa100 as we celebrate the global impact of Henrietta Lacks featuring her descents, scientists, advocates, teachers, artists, influencers and policymakers.  

5 - 6 PM ET | A Toast to #CELLebrate Henrietta: Wear a pop of red to celebrate Henrietta Lacks at her virtual 100th Birthday party with her family, a celebrity DJ, spoken word, and tributes!

Please note: Symposium will now take place online due to the COVID-19 related restrictions on safely convening large groups. All previously purchased eventbrite HeLa2020 Symposium tickets and fees will be refunded.

#HeLa100: A Centennial CELLebration

The Lacks Family has announced a year-long celebration to honor the 100th anniversary of the birth of Henrietta Lacks. Born in Virginia, on August 1, 1920, Henrietta Lacks, a wife, mother of five, and resident of Turner Station, Maryland, is the “Mother of Modern Medicine,” who changed the world with the gift of her immortal HeLa cells.

August 1, 2020, marks the 100th birthday of this phenomenal woman and the launch of the historic yearlong global Centennial CELLebration, which will culminate with a three day conference in Baltimore, Maryland on August 1, 2021.


Who Am I?: Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks was a Black woman born on August 1, 1920, in Roanoke, Virginia, raised by her grandfather on a tobacco farm in Clover, Virginia. Henrietta married David ‘‘Day’’ Lacks in 1941 in Halifax County, Virginia. As a young mother, she would move north with Day to find opportunities in Baltimore and made a home in Turner Station in Dundalk, Maryland. There, Henrietta and Day built a life for themselves and their five children: Lawrence, Elsie, David, Deborah, and Joseph (Zakariyya).

Henrietta went to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore after experiencing extensive vaginal bleeding. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer, which was terminal and quickly consumed her body despite treatment. At only 31 years of age, Henrietta’s life was cut short on October 4, 1951. 

Henrietta Lacks died eight months after her cancer diagnosis, leaving behind her children, husband, and her ‘‘immortal cells’’ that would change the world. You see, not all of Henrietta Lacks died that day in 1951. She unknowingly left behind a piece of her that still lives today — it is called the HeLa cell.

Medical researchers took samples of Henrietta Lacks’ tumor during her treatment, and the HeLa cell line from her cancerous tumor proved remarkably resilient. HeLa cells were a breakthrough in cell research - the first immortal line of human cells, doubling every 24 hours, dividing and replenishing indefinitely in a laboratory, and successfully growing outside of the human body for longer than 36 hours.

While the birth of the HeLa cells were making an impact worldwide – her family was not informed. Henrietta Lacks’ cells were unique, growing by the millions, commercialized and distributed worldwide to researchers, resulting in advances in medicine. It was not until 20 years after Henrietta’s death that her family would learn how science retrieved her cells and of her enormous contribution to medicine and humanity. 

The world would never be the same after the “HeLa” phenomena began in 1951. Since then, there has been mass production of the cells which have traveled around the globe, even into space! The HeLa cells are continually used for research, and to test theories about the cause and treatment of diseases. Over 50,000,000 metric tons of HeLa cells have been distributed around the world to become the subject of more than 75,000 studies.

Advances made possible by Henrietta Lacks’ cells, and the revenues they generated were not known to her family for more than twenty years. Even though Henrietta’s cells launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, to date, her family has never received any of the revenues HeLa cells generated. 

For more than six decades, Henrietta Lacks’ prolific cells continue to grow and contribute to remarkable advances in medicine, including the development of the polio vaccine, as well as drugs for treating the effects of cancer, HIV/AIDS, hemophilia, leukemia, and Parkinson’s disease. HeLa cells have been used in research that has contributed to the understanding of the effects of radiation and zero gravity on human cells. They have also informed research on chromosomal conditions, cancer, gene mapping, precision medicine, and even the current coronavirus studies as the world responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Henrietta, unknowingly, changed the world forever! She has been called many things Immortal, Heroine of Modern Medicine, Medical Miracle, and Wonder Woman. Henrietta Lacks’ legacy has been recognized around the world through memorials, conferences, museum exhibitions, libraries, print, and visual media. Her story has been told by many, including Rebecca Skloot, the bestselling author of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” which inspired the HBO FILMS movie adaptation starring Oprah Winfrey. Her significant contributions have been recognized by the U.S. Congress, state legislatures, and local policymakers; and globally honored by government leaders, artists, schools, universities, scientists, patient advocates, social justice leaders, and more.

To Henrietta’s family, she was their beloved “Hennie,” daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother. Henrietta was a remarkable woman during her lifetime, who loved her children, community, dancing, cooking, fashion and was a vibrant as her favorite color – red! In Henrietta’s passing, her medical contributions indeed exhibit this phenomenal woman. 

Today, Henrietta Lacks continues to enhance many lives, even those who are unaware of her past existence. After all, Henrietta has a rich and important history and a great legacy that she left for her family to carry.

Henrietta Lacks and her family’s experience is fundamental to modern bioethics policies and informed consent laws that benefit patients nationwide by building patient trust and protecting research participants. In 2013, the Lacks family entered a groundbreaking, HeLa Genome Data Use Agreement with the medical, scientific, and bioethics communities, giving them a role in regulating the HeLa genome sequences and discoveries.

In 2020, the life of Henrietta Lacks will be honored with a yearlong centennial celebration led by the Lacks Family. This phenomenal black woman, wife, and mother unknowingly changed the face of medical science, contributing to lasting, worldwide improvements in health. Henrietta is a hero of modern medicine, and her contributions to the medical discoveries resulting from her HeLa cells helped make possible some of the most important medical advances of the last century. Henrietta’s life has incontestably impacted global health, scientific research, bioethics, patient rights, and equity that benefit all people.

We invite the world to CELLebrate Henrietta Lacks’ legacy!