(Courtesy photo)

It’s Henrietta Lacks Day in Maryland. On this day in 1920, Henrietta Lacks was born. At the age of 30, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and in January 1951 she was admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital, one of the few major hospitals that treated “coloreds.”

Researchers were astonished that Lacks’ cells (named HeLa using the first two letters of her first and last names) lived for a long time outside of the body and reproduced rapidly under laboratory conditions. Since their discovery, HeLa cells have been used to advance the polio vaccination for human use, as well as research cancer, chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS, and numerous other diseases and disorders. No consent was required to culture the cells obtained from Lacks’ treatment and neither she nor her family were compensated for their extraction or use.

Today we honor the life, contributions, and sacrifices of Henrietta Lacks, hailed as the matriarch of modern medicine. To learn more about Black history and culture in Maryland, please visit us online at bdmuseum.maryland.gov.

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