A cancer science center honoring the memory of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman who lived in Clover when her cells were used to create the first immortal human cell line, came one step closer to coming to Halifax County earlier this month when SB 171 passed the full Senate with a unanimous bi-partisan vote of 40 to 0.
A similar bill also has unanimously passed in the House 100-0.
The legislation is aimed at creating the Henrietta Lacks Commission that would establish through a public-private partnership the Henrietta Lacks Life Sciences Center to be located in the county as a cancer research and treatment center.
Negotiations are in the works with Virginia lawmakers and local officials to establish the cancer science center in the county where the Clover sharecropper lived when she made medical history.
State Sen. Bill Stanley filed the legislation envisioning the opening of The Henrietta Lacks Life Science Center, and Del. James Edmunds II introduced companion legislation in the House.
“The late Ms. Lacks, who lived in Halifax County, lost her life to cancer in 1951. She gifted her unique legacy, the HeLa Cell, to cancer research that would lead to transforming the speed and success of cancer treatment via cutting edge ‘precision medicine’ and providing tailored cancer treatment medicine to an underserved portion of rural Southern Virginia,” Stanley said.
“The center would also be appropriately honoring Henrietta Lack’s unique legacy in Halifax, her home place,” he added.
The public-private partnership would be developed to oversee the Henrietta Lacks Life Sciences Center in Halifax County as a cancer research and treatment center designed “to transform and accelerate cancer research and treatment through the use of biodata tools, provide tailored cancer treatment medicine to an underserved portion of rural Southern Virginia and incubate new biotech businesses across the Southside Virginia region,” according to Stanley’s bill.
The bill has an expiration date of July 1, 2021.
Proposed partners in the venture include the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority and members of the extended family of Henrietta Lacks and the Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group.
On Wednesday, Lacks’ extended family members are scheduled to meet at the Capitol in Richmond to celebrate the impending passage of the legislation creating the commission to establish the cancer research and treatment center in the county.
Lacks’ role in medical history was brought to light in a best-selling 2010 book that later became the basis for an HBO movie starring Oprah Winfrey that debuted last April.
Following her death from cervical cancer in 1951, Lacks, a woman well-known in the world of science, was laid to rest in Clover.
When Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951, she didn’t live out the year, and during the course of her treatment, her cells were taken without her consent.
Her cells, known as HeLa cells, were the first human cells to reproduce in culture and have been used in much research. The “immortal” cell line enabled a new generation of medical research, and such innovations as the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization and more.
The gravesite of Henrietta Lacks is in Clover, where a headstone, which was donated in 2010, reads, “Henrietta Lacks, August 01, 1920-October 04, 1951. In loving memory of a phenomenal woman, wife and mother who touched the lives of many. Here lies Henrietta Lacks (HeLa). Her immortal cells will continue to help mankind forever. Eternal Love and Admiration, From Your Family.”