HeLa Genome Project explored in Bridgewater College event

bridgewaterHenrietta Lacks was a poor, black tobacco farmer whose cells, taken without her knowledge in 1951, went on to become the first immortal human cells ever grown in the laboratory. Those cells, nicknamed HeLa, became an important tool in modern medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization and more.

David Lacks Jr. and Veronica Spencer of the Lacks family, featured in Rebecca Skloot’s bestseller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, will speak on Thursday, Oct. 2, at 7:30 p.m. in Cole Hall at Bridgewater College. The program, sponsored by the Anna B. Mow Lecture Series, is free and open to the public.

The Lacks family has spoken to audiences across the country about Henrietta and her contribution to science. In their appearances, the family shares with audiences what it meant to find out—decades after the fact—that Henrietta’s cells were being used in laboratories around the globe and generating billions of dollars in profit. Their story puts a personal face to the issue of bioethics and the rights of people to control their own genetic material.

David Lacks Jr. is the grandson of Henrietta Lacks and son of David “Sonny” Lacks and Spencer is Henrietta Lacks’ great-granddaughter. Both represent the Lacks family on the National Institutes of Health panel that reviews applications to conduct research using the HeLa genome.

Bridgewater College is a private, four-year liberal arts college, located in the Central Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Founded in 1880, it was the state’s first private, coeducational college. Today, Bridgewater College is home to approximately 1,800 undergraduate students.

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