Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks gets an honorary degree from MSU

A poor African American woman from Turners Station whose cells were taken without her consent by Johns Hopkins Hospital doctors and used in ground-breaking research, Henrietta Lacks was recognized posthumously by Morgan State University Saturday.

Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951, but her cells became important tools in  medicine – used to develop the polio vaccine, cloning, in vitro fertilization, gene mapping and more.

“She has attained a level and kind of immortality unreached by any other person in human history,” Burney J. Hollis, former dean at Morgan, said, as Lacks was awarded  a doctorate of public service at Saturday’s commencement ceremonies. (In this National Public Radio piece that aired today, you can hear more of Hollis’ comments and emotional remarks by Lacks’ son, David “Sonny” Lacks Jr.,  who accepted the honor on his mother’s behalf.)

Lacks’ story was the subject of an award-winning book by Rebecca Skloot, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” According to Huffington Post, the book is soon to be made into an HBO movie by Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball.