University Park, IL,
09:18 AM

Grandson of Henrietta Lacks speaks at GovState health fair

Alfred Lacks-Carter, Jr.

Governors State University’s (GovState) College of Health and Human Services hosted its second daylong EPIC health fair that promoted cancer awareness through stories from cancer survivors and guest panels, including one that featured Alfred Lacks-Carter Jr., grandson of Henrietta Lacks whose cancer cells are the source of groundbreaking medical research.

With its theme of learning from the past to live a healthy future, the health fair honored Henrietta Lacks’ legacy, one that includes unknowingly creating the HeLa cells, the first immortalized human cell line. According to John Hopkins Medicine website, the HeLa cells have been used to study the human genome, to learn more about how viruses work, and to aid the development of the polio and COVID-19 vaccines.

Lacks-Carter Jr. made an appearance at the health fair to speak about health care clinical trials, advocacy, literacy, and a business line created to honor his grandmother.

“We [Lacks family] are grateful that we are partnering with Governors State for health equity, health science, and research because it is very important and imperative that we participate in clinical trials,” said Lacks-Carter Jr. in his opening remarks.

He went on to share some of his grandmother’s story. Though she may have passed in 1951, six months after receiving treatment for cervical cancer, Lacks-Carter Jr. has made spreading his grandmother’s story far and wide part of his life’s mission, so that her contribution to medicine is not forgotten.

On the day of her passing, Lacks-Carter Jr. said that John Hopkins Medicine announced that they had the first immortalized human cell line, though the Lacks family would not know that the HeLa cells came from Henrietta Lacks until 25 years after she passed.

“It was 25 years later, that our family found out that the HeLa cells were still living, still multiplying, and saving lives all over the world,” said Lacks-Carter Jr. “She [Henrietta] is truly the mother of modern medicine.”

Lacks-Carter Jr. went on to share that over 11,000 patents have been created from the HeLa cells. “My grandmother, Henrietta Lacks, has given the world a medical breakthrough,” he said.

Later in the evening, Lacks-Carter Jr.’s manager spoke about the new business that is launching later this year to support the Lacks family’s mission to preserve Henrietta’s legacy and educate future generations on the impact of the HeLa cells, as well as to promote health equity and social justice. 

To read more about Henrietta Lacks and Alfred Lacks-Carter, Jr.’s efforts to share her incredible story, click here.