Blacks in Biomedical Research (Thanks HeLa!)



While on the plane, to San Diego, I came across a movie entitled, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” When we think about blacks in “biomedical research,” many of us immediately think about the “Tuskegee Experiment” but very few have heard the name Henrietta Lacks. Research was conducted at Johns Hopkins on Henrietta Lack’s cell line. She was a cancer patient who later died due to the unfortunate disease. It was the study of Henrietta’s cells at Johns Hopkins that pioneered much of biomedical research (regarding Cancer) that exists today.


The movie stars Oprah Winfrey and details the life of Henrietta. Henrietta’s cell line was referred to as “HeLa” for confidentiality. The research done on Henrietta’s cells was very controversial because this was done against Ms. Lacks’ knowledge. The movie goes on to suggest Johns Hopkins Hospital has a long history of “killing black people!” —(I don’t know anything about the validity of that accusation, but it is a very interesting and requires further research.) I have always been a fan of Johns Hopkins due to their strong influence in medicine and research, but this movie does cause me to lift a brow!


I was very intrigued and moved by this film. How is this possible? Another African American legend that I know absolutely nothing about. My boyfriend is a pharmaceutical researcher. He has visits to Johns Hopkins all the time. He had no awareness of this either. This led me to do my own research. I was pleased to discover that in 2010, Johns Hopkins Institute for Clinical and Translational Research established the annual Henrietta Lacks Lecture Series in her honor.


I don’t know what all happened to Ms. Lacks when she was being treated at Johns Hopkins, but I am thankful to have been given a glimpse into her life through this film.


It seems more often I am discovering monumental African American figures in history whom I have previously had no knowledge.


This blog isn’t intended to be funny—like the majority of my blogs—but instead is intended to be informative. And in approaching the “Thanksgiving” holiday, This is also my way of saying, Thanks Ms. Lacks!!!!


Lesson I learned….


1.) Everyday my gratitude increases! Each day I discover another person or reason in which to be thankful!!!




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