Museum tells the story of scientific breakthroughs, medical consent and controversy

PETOSKEY—North Central will host a one-day, pop-up museum that combines history and science while posing questions about medical breakthroughs and patient consent.  The Henrietta Lacks Traveling Museum will be open to the public on Tuesday, April 5, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. in the NCMC Library.

Related events include two screenings of the film based on Lacks’ story, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” on Wednesday, April 6, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the NCMC Library, and a discussion and book club led by North Central Professor Davina Gutierrez on Thursday, April 7, at 1 p.m., also in the library.

Curated by Lacks’ great nephew, Jermaine Jackson, the museum tells the story of a woman whose line of cells—harvested without her knowledge—has informed numerous scientific advances during the past 70 years, from vaccine development to cancer treatments. 

In 1951, 31-year-old Lacks presented at The Johns Hopkins Hospital with abdominal pain.  Doctors discovered a large, malignant tumor on her cervix.  While harvesting cancer cells from patients was common practice at Johns Hopkins during that time, Lacks’ cells were the first to not only survive, but multiply, in a laboratory setting. 

Her cell line still exists and has contributed to extensive research and numerous medical breakthroughs, including the development of polio and COVID-19 vaccines.  Johns Hopkins has never sold or profited from the discovery or distribution of the cells, nicknamed “HeLa cells” or “immortal cells.”  However, such collection and research would not happen today without a patient’s consent.

These free events are organized by Gutierrez and North Central Librarian Kendra Lake.  Jackson will be in attendance to answer questions and provide personal commentary at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on April 5.  The public and supervised school groups are invited to attend.