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Family of Henrietta Lacks to Speak at UIC

Sharon Parmet 
June 22, 2017

Family members of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman whose cancer cells became one of the most important cell lines in medical history, will be at the University of Illinois at Chicago to discuss the impact of her legacy on medical research.

Experts from the UI Health Cancer Center and the National Institutes of Health will talk about efforts to safeguard public trust in research and the cancer center’s participation in the All of Us Research Program. This NIH-funded program is a historic effort to gather data from more than one million people living in the United States to develop population-specific treatments for disease and to improve health.Advancing Trust in Medical Research: A Community Dialogue with Family Members of Henrietta Lacks
The HBO film “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” starring Oprah Winfrey, will be screened and copies of the book by Rebecca Skloot will be available for purchase and signature by Lacks family members.

The program is free and open to the public. Registration requested.

Friday, July 7
11:00 a.m. – noon, lunch
Noon – 2:15 p.m., panel discussion. Speakers will include:


Robert A. Barish, MD, MBA, Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, Professor of Emergency Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago

Opening remarks:

Robert A. Winn, MD 
Associate Vice Chancellor for Community-Based Practice and Director, UI Health Cancer Center; Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep and Allergy, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago

Lacks Family Members:

Shirley Lacks is Henrietta Lacks’ daughter-in-law and her daughter Deborah’s childhood best friend.  Since retiring from the banking industry, Shirley dedicates much of her time traveling around the country, keeping Henrietta’s legacy alive.  Shirley has three children and five grandchildren.

Jeri Lacks-Whye is Henrietta Lacks’ granddaughter.  She is employed with the Judiciary System of Baltimore in the Domestic Violence Unit.  Jeri has visited dozens of campuses and communities around the country, adding her own perspective on the legacy of Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cells.  She was one of the family members who consulted on the HBO film based on “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” produced by Oprah Winfrey and Allan Ball. 

Veronica Robinson is Henrietta Lacks’ great granddaughter. Inspired by Henrietta’s story, she is currently studying to become a Registered Nurse at Baltimore City Community College. She represents the Lacks family on the National Institute of Health’s panel that reviews applications to conduct research using the HeLa genome. Veronica is also a mentor at Johns Hopkins for Dunbar Scholars and a very active member of the Lacks Family Foundation.

First Panel Discussion:

Introductory Remarks:

Karriem S. Watson, DHSc, MS, MPH
Director, Office of Community Engaged Research and Implementation Science, UI Health Cancer Center

Guest speaker and moderator:

Dara Richardson-Heron, M.D.
Chief Engagement Officer for the All of Us Research Program, National Institutes of Health


Ashish Ansal, MD 
Family Medicine, Mile Square Health Center, Englewood

Lisa Anderson-Shaw, DrPH, MA, MSN, ANP-BC
Clinical Assistant Professor of Medical-Surgical Nursing in Medical Education, College of Nursing, UIC; Director of the Clinical Ethics Consult Service, UI Health

UI Health Patient Brigade Members: 

RoseMarie Rogers is a member of the newly formed UI Health Patient Brigade. A breast cancer survivor, Rosemarie, together with fellow brigade members, helps to shape UI Health Cancer Center’s approach to cancer care and treatment.

Carol Gyimatey is a member of the UI Health Patient Brigade. A breast cancer survivor, Carol received her initial breast cancer diagnosis at UI Health Mile Square Englewood where she receives primary care. Her treatments took place at UI Health Center Outpatient Care Center.

2:16 p.m. – 2:45 p.m., “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” book signing
2:46 p.m. – 4:15 p.m., Screening of the HBO film “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” starring Oprah Winfrey

UIC Student Center West
828 S. Wolcott Ave., 2nd floor

Henrietta Lacks (1920 – 1951) was a black woman whose cancer cells were the source of the HeLa cell line, the first immortalized cell line to be used in medical research. Lacks was not asked if her cells could be used, nor did she receive any financial compensation for her cells or the discoveries they enabled, including chemotherapy, the polio vaccine and genetic mapping. In fact, Lacks was unaware her cells were being used in countless medical experiments. Her family only became aware of HeLa cells in 1975.
In the last few decades, and even more so after the publication of the biography, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot (2010) on which the HBO film is based, Lacks’ story has become more well-known.

The Lacks family, community and special guests will discuss the importance of diverse populations participating in clinical research and what academic and medical partners can do to increase trust and engagement with the community, in advance of the start of enrollment for All of Us, which will begin this fall.
The University of Illinois at Chicago, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and their affiliated hospitals and clinics have been selected to enroll 150,000 Illinoisans in the national All of Us Research Program.