Statue of black 'mother' of modern medicine Henrietta Lacks unveiled at Bristol University

The statue has been unveiled at the University of Bristol.

A life-size bronze statue of a young black woman from America who changed medical science has been unveiled in Bristol.

Henrietta Lacks died of cancer in 1951 but cells from her body were taken.

They were the first to be found to live indefinitely - and they continue to be used to this day for medical breakthroughs.

So far they have helped to develop IVF, chemotherapy and the polio vaccine - as well as being used most recently for Covid-19 research.

The statue is the first UK statue of a black woman to have been sculpted by a black artist.

It was created by Helen Wilson-Roe and will be displayed at the University of Bristol, which commissioned the work.

The statue of Henrietta Lacks has been unveiled at the University of Bristol

Henrietta Lacks' granddaughter, Jeri Lacks-Whye, said: "As the world commemorates 70 years since Henrietta Lacks' HeLa cells changed the world, we also reflect on my grandmother's untimely passing.

"It is only fitting that she be memorialised to educate future generations on her legacy and the importance of advancing health equity and social justice for all."

Henrietta's cells were taken without her or her family's knowledge or consent and it was only by chance the family found out about her legacy in 1975.

Because Henrietta's cells were able to proliferate indefinitely, they formed the first scientifically defined 'immortal' human cell line, opening the door to all kinds of experiments and research on cell behaviour.  

These cells made possible some of the most important medical advances of all time including the development of the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, gene-mapping, IVF and cloning.  

Helen Wilson-Roe said: "As a child growing up in Bristol there were no statues of black women that I could identify with. So knowing that my children and their grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be able to see Henrietta's statue is just fantastic, especially at this time when Bristol is starting to address its past."

Professor Jeremy Tavare, biochemist and Dean of the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Bristol added: "Many of our biomedical science researchers whose work uses human cells have used Henrietta's cells in their research or with collaborators, including myself.

"We all owe Henrietta an enormous debt of gratitude."