Architect selected for planning phase of campus building honoring Henrietta Lacks

Vines Architecture will lead feasibility study for East Baltimore multidisciplinary research building that is expected to be completed in 2022

Johns Hopkins University officials announced Saturday Vines Architecture has been selected to lead the planning stages for a multidisciplinary building on the university's East Baltimore campus that will honor the legacy of Henrietta Lacks.

The announcement was made at the 10th annual Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture, which honors the legacy of Lacks, whose HeLa cell line has contributed to many significant advances in medicine, including the development of the polio vaccine to the study of HPV, HIV/AIDS, and leukemia. A year ago at the annual lecture, the university first announced plans to name a campus building in honor of Lacks.

"The legacy of Henrietta Lacks is simultaneously scientific, historical, and social," Paul B. Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said Saturday. "This building is a monument to the impact she has had in all of these domains. The story of Henrietta Lacks and Johns Hopkins is a story of the close relationship between our institution and the community around it. This event and the symposium reminds us that we work in partnership with this community, and this city."

"The legacy of Henrietta Lacks is simultaneously scientific, historical, and social. This building is a monument to the impact she has had in all of these domains."
Paul B. Rothman
Dean and CEO, Hopkins Medicine

The building will occupy the site adjacent to the Berman Institute of Bioethics' Deering Hall, located at the corner of Ashland Avenue and Rutland Avenue, north of The Johns Hopkins Hospital. The building will support programs that enhance participation and partnership with members of the community in research that can benefit the community, as well as extend the opportunities to further study and promote research ethics and community engagement in research through an expansion of the Berman Institute and its work.

Groundbreaking is anticipated for 2020, with planned completion in 2022.

Vines Architecture, an award-winning architecture firm based in Raleigh, North Carolina, has expertise in libraries, museums, and cultural institutions as well as educational and university facilities. Architect Victor Vines, the firm's founder, led the Phase One Programming & Planning Phase team that produced the research and decision-making programming for the design of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. He has also worked with Vines Architecture design director Bob Thomas on a number of transformative projects, including the North Carolina A&T State University Student Center and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, North Carolina, both of which have won awards from the American Institute of Architects.

"Working with Johns Hopkins and Vines Architecture has been an awesome experience," said Jeri Lacks, granddaughter of Henrietta Lacks. "It means a lot to us that they have included our family in this process. Our input will help ensure that my grandmother's personality is present in the building."

First discovered when Lacks was a patient at Johns Hopkins in 1951, the HeLa cells are a remarkably durable and prolific line of cells developed by Johns Hopkins researcher George Gey during Henrietta Lacks' treatment for cancer.

A sample of Lacks' cancer cells was retrieved during a biopsy and sent to Gey's nearby tissue lab, where he had been collecting cells from patients who came to The Johns Hopkins Hospital with cervical cancer. He discovered Lacks' cells were unlike any of the others he had seen: Where other cells would die, Lacks' cells survived, and the number of cells would double every 20 to 24 hours. Soon after that, he began sharing the cells, at no cost, with researchers around the world.

Although many other cell lines are in use today, over the past several decades, the HeLa cell line has contributed to many medical breakthroughs.

In 2013, Johns Hopkins worked with members of the Lacks family and the National Institutes of Health to help broker an agreement that requires scientists to receive permission to use Henrietta Lacks' genetic blueprint in NIH-funded research.

The NIH committee tasked with overseeing the use of HeLa cells now includes two members of the Lacks family. The medical research community has also made significant strides in improving research practices, in part thanks to the lessons learned from Henrietta Lacks' story.

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