In 1950, Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman, went to The Johns Hopkins Hospital for treatment of an aggressive cervical cancer. Henrietta would undergo surgery and radiation in an effort to combat the disease. During surgery, a sample of her tissue was taken without her or her family’s consent or knowledge and given to Dr. George Gey who had been searching for an immortal line of cells on which he could conduct tissue research. Unsuccessful to date, the sample of Henrietta’s cell would give Gey the never dying cells he sought.
In October of 1951, Henrietta lost the battle against the aggressive cancer. Her cells, however, continued to live in the Hopkins laboratory and eventually in laboratories all over the world. The immortal line of Henrietta’s cells has been and continues to be used in medical research. In addition to Henrietta’s legacy in medical breakthroughs, the gathering and use of her cells has led to changes in medical ethics and patient consent regulations.
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) have partnered together to co-sponsor an educator workshop and curriculum kit about Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cell line for middle school and high school history/social studies and science teachers. We encourage multidisciplinary teams to apply to attend this workshop.