Loudoun County’s newest elementary, which will open at the start of the 2024–2025 school year, will be named Henrietta Lacks Elementary School, after the woman whose cells advanced medical research around the world.
The school at 41125 Collaboration Dr. in Aldie sits on 117 acres along with Hovatter Elementary School and Lightridge High School.
Henrietta Lacks, who was born in Roanoke in 1920, died at age 31 of an aggressive cervical cancer. Cancerous cells were taken from her during a biopsy at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. They were turned over to a tissue lab without her permission and discovered to be different than others because they survived and doubled every 20 to 24 hours, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
The cells would be given to other research labs and would become known as the HeLa cell line, named for first two letters of her first and last names. The cell line would be “widely used in laboratory research on viruses, cancers, infectious diseases, and human genetics,” according to a news release from Loudoun County Public Schools.
The use of her cells has raised ethical and legal questions about the use of genetic material and family privacy, as well as illustrating racial inequities in the health care system that profited from discoveries from her cells. It wouldn’t be until 2013 that her family would reach an agreement with the National Institutes of Health. The family would allow researchers controlled access to enable scientific progress, acknowledge the contribution she made, and give the family “a seat at the table in reviewing applications for controlled access to Henrietta Lacks’ whole genome data,” said a 2013 news release from NIH.
“It is entirely possible that some of the students who will learn at this new school would not be there without the research and scientific advances that Henrietta Lacks made possible,” said Loudoun County School Board Chair Ian Serotkin. “I hope it inspires the students there to learn more about science the way it inspired me when I read her story.”
Feature image courtesy Pictorial Press Ltd./Alamy Stock Photo
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