Hammond teens present symposium about unwitting cell donor

2013-11-19T20:15:00Z 2013-11-20T00:17:20Z Hammond teens present symposium about unwitting cell donorCarmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | About 80 Hammond High School students on Tuesday showcased what they learned about the immortalized cell line known as "HeLa."

The cell line was derived from cervical cancer cells taken in February 1951 from Henrietta Lacks, a patient who eventually died from the cancer Oct. 4, 1951.

Lacks, a poor black tobacco farmer, never knew her cells were taken. Her cell line became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization and other scientific research.

Hammond High Advanced Placement biology teacher Jackie Brasseur said she and three other Advanced Placement teachers were awarded a $3,000 grant from the Hammond Education Foundation and used the money for the project.

Students read the book "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. The students also traveled to Indiana State University to hear the daughter-in-law and great-granddaughter of Lacks speak. Students returned to work on their projects and put together a symposium on what they learned.

Brasseur said this is the first time that students have ever done a project of this scope. Students worked in groups and individually, presenting projects focused on biology, chemistry, English language and English literature.

Juniors Amara Norwood, 17, and Jacqueline Herrera, 16, said it was a wonderful experience. Norwood created a book of original poems about Lacks, while Herrera wrote a children's book.

Norwood said hearing from Lacks' relatives gave all of the students a better understanding of Lacks and her life.

Herrera said students had read about Lacks' illness and what caused it.

"They took advantage of her when they took her cells without her permission," Herrera said.

Ruth Quiros, the mother of senior Keila Crespo, 18, said she thought the project was really good because it involved all the students and gave family and friends an opportunity to come to the school to see what the students are learning.

"I think they should do more of these kinds of projects at the school," she said.

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