Relatives of Henrietta Lacks to speak at Book-in-Common program

October 9, 2019 — DENTON — Two relatives of the late Henrietta Lacks — a central figure in vaccine development and other medical advances — will be featured speakers at Texas Woman’s University’s Book-in-Common program on Oct. 17. 

Lacks, the subject of the #1 New York Times Bestseller, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” was a poor, African-American farmer whose cells were taken without her knowledge in 1951 for medical research. The cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine and instrumental in advancing cloning and gene mapping. The cells were bought and sold for research, but without the Lacks family’s knowledge.

The book eventually was adapted for a TV movie in 2017, which drew critical acclaim. For the second straight year the book is part of TWU’s Book-in-Common program.

Among the relatives who will speak at the event will be Lacks’ granddaughter, Jeri Lacks Whye, who works in the domestic violence unit of the Judiciary System of Baltimore. She is one of three family members on a National Institutes of Health panel that oversees HeLa genome research applications. She also consulted on the HBO film adaptation of the best-selling book, produced by Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball.

The other featured speaker is David Lacks, Jr., who is the grandson of Henrietta Lacks. He is in the computer information systems industry and also serves on the NIH panel, where he reviews proposals from researchers seeking to use the HeLa genome in their research.

The event will begin at 5 p.m. in Room 101 of the Multipurpose Classroom and Laboratory Building. A book-signing event follows the speaking engagement.

The TWU Book-in-Common program is a university-wide initiative developed to foster a learning environment focused on the success of students to live, work and lead in a diverse and complex world.  The program promotes awareness and appreciation for the richness that is brought by embracing all forms of diversity and multicultural perspectives. 

Media Contact

Matt Flores
Assistant Vice President, University Communications

Page last updated 10:45 AM, October 9, 2019