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CHICAGO — She unknowingly made medical history by giving doctors some of their biggest breakthroughs in the fight against cancer.  Today, the University of Illinois is paying tribute and preserving the legacy of Henrietta Lacks.

Her cancer cells helped unlock new treatments including chemotherapy to help future cancer patients.

Lacks was a poor African American tobacco farmer, when cells known as HeLa Cells were removed from her body in 1951 during a biopsy without her permission.

Little did she know those cells were like gold to scientists because they are able to multiply rapidly.  For this reason they’re immortal and would be studied for generations to come. They would eventually lead to a cures for diseases like Polio, other diseases and even medical breakthroughs like in vitro fertilization.

UIC Professors and researchers were thrilled to host the Lacks family to a packed house at the student center on Friday.   Karriem Watson, the Director of Community-Engaged Research and implementation science  at the UI Cancer Center, says the research that they’re furthering with the help of HeLa Cells will pave the way for other breakthroughs in genetics, precision medicine and clinical trials.

Now the family wants to not only keep Henrietta Lacks’ memory alive, but they’re putting more time and effort into the Henrietta Lacks Foundation.  The foundation will not only help those in underprivileged neighborhoods in Chicago and around the country get the necessary medical treatment they need, but will also aid individuals who have made contributions to scientific research without their knowledge or consent.