In 1951 Henrietta Lacks, who lived in and lies in rest in Halifax County, Virginia, lost her life to cancer. She gifted her unique legacy – The HeLa Cell – to cancer research, transforming the speed and success of cancer treatment. Many of the same factors that affected the course of her life and legacy prevail today, including a greater incidence of cancer in the Southern Virginia Region, a lack of economic opportunity that drove her to leave Southern Virginia, and a lack of significant and lasting recognition of Henrietta Lack’s unparalleled contribution. The Henrietta Lacks Life Sciences Center (HeLa LSC) project is conceived to help rectify all of these.
In function, the HeLa LSC is currently conceived to be a foundation, directed by representatives of the stakeholder community who build, operate and champion its multipurpose mission. These stakeholders include the Lacks Family, the Commonwealth of Virginia, resident research institutions, healthcare providers, and Halifax Industrial Development Authority (Halifax IDA). Together they will accelerate cancer research and treatment via cutting edge bio data tools (i.e., “precision medicine”), provide tailored cancer treatment medicine to an underserved portion of rural Southern Virginia, research, develop and commercialize new therapies, transform the Southern Virginia economy and appropriately honor Henrietta Lacks’ unique legacy where it is most appropriate – her home place.
In form, the HeLa LSC will be a 200,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art research and medical facility, built in Halifax IDA’s Southern Virginia Technology Park, a short drive from Henrietta Lack’s childhood home and final resting place. This location places it within the labor shed of NorthCarolina’s Research Triangle Park; a labor shed with an average seven to ten percent oversupply of highly educated, trained and skilled bio-tech and medical workers, who could become the researchers and care-givers in the HeLa LSC. The Southern Virginia region is served by the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation’s high-speed fiber network with a working capacity of up to 400GBPS, and linked to numerous supercomputers, research universities and healthcare providers. Many of these universities and healthcare systems have already identified the need to address the high incidence of cancer in Southern Virginia. The University of Virginia has an outreach program specific to mitigating the incidence of cancer in the region. The Massey Cancer Center has increased its presence in the region. And Sentara has merged with Halifax Regional in order to serve better the specific medical needs of the region’s citizens. Each of these can expand and improve their separate missions. Together they can create the synergies that will make the HeLa LSC a world-class place and program.
Full concept business plan, proforma, floorplans and renderings for all the above has been drafted by the Halifax IDA who has agreement to explore this concept more fully from the Lacks family, and The Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group.