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Students Learning About Legacy Left By Henrietta Lacks

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- On Wednesday, students from across Baltimore learned about the Maryland woman whose cells are still a vital part of medicine, decades after her death.

Henrietta Lacks only lived to be 31 years old, but her cancer cells - taken by doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s without her knowledge - revolutionized medicine forever.

The HeLa cells were immortalized and used to develop the polio vaccine, breakthroughs in cancer treatment, cloning, and in vitro fertilization.

"The HeLa cells are the most studied human cell that we have," said Dr. Daniel Ford, vice dean for clinical investigation at Johns Hopkins.

That's why, for the fifth year in a row, Baltimore high school students are celebrating Lacks' impactful contribution.

They first learn her story.

"She started something in medicine that helped us all be here today," said student Maegan Brown.

Then spend time in the Hopkins labs.

"It's just beautiful to be part of this legacy," said Lacks' great granddaughter, Veronica Robinson.

Robinson says that thanks to "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," and the new film based on the book - starring Oprah - Lacks is no longer an unsung hero.

"It took my grandfather through some changes to see this come back to life," said Robinson. "He had to go to the grave and relive his mom's death, just so the world would say her name."

The symposium uses the Lacks story to teach students about bioethics and respecting the rights of patients.

"I'm going to be the future doctor, so now that I know what happened in the past, I can try and fix it so it doesn't happen in the upcoming future," said student Lacey Dixon.

"Sometimes bad things happens to good people, so that great things can happen to others in the world," said Robinson.

The Baltimore City Council is cSonsidering whether to name October 4, Henrietta Lacks day.

Click here to learn more about Henrietta Lacks, HeLa cells, and Johns Hopkins.

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