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Baltimore Honors Legacy of Pioneer Henrietta Lacks, Her Cells Led to Polio Vaccine

Baltimore will be celebrating Henrietta Lacks Day.
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Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has approved a bill to greenlight Henrietta Lacks Day. Lacks’ cancerous cells were used without her consent by doctors in the 1940s and played a critical role in the creation of a polio vaccine and other crucial medical advancements.

The idea was first proposed by John Hopkins Hospital, where Lacks visited upon discovery of her illness. It was at the hospital that doctors would then immortalize her cells, which are scientifically known as HeLa cells.

Oct. 4 will now be acknowledged as Henrietta Lacks Day by Baltimore; the state will commemorate the day on Aug. 1.

In April, HBO premiered the biopic “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” The film, produced by Oprah Winfrey, took inspiration from the 2010 book by author Rebecca Skloot, who was among the first to publicize Lacks’ story.

“It is my hope that this special day will renew interest in her life and legacy,” Pugh’s office wrote in an email to the Johns Hopkins newsletter.

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