Now a major motion picture from HBO(R) starring Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne. Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells--taken without her knowledge--became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first "immortal" human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they'd weigh ...
Now a major motion picture from HBO(R) starring Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne. Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells--taken without her knowledge--became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first "immortal" human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they'd weigh more than 50 million metric tons--as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb's effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave. Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the "colored" ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta's small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia--a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo--to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells. Henrietta's family did not learn of her "immortality" until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family--past and present--is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of. Over the decade it took to uncover this story, Rebecca became enmeshed in the lives of the Lacks family--especially Henrietta's daughter Deborah, who was devastated to learn about her mother's cells. She was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned her mother? Did it hurt her when researchers infected her cells with viruses and shot them into space? What happened to her sister, Elsie, who died in a mental institution at the age of fifteen? And if her mother was so important to medicine, why couldn't her children afford health insurance? Intimate in feeling, astonishing in scope, and impossible to put down, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks captures the beauty and drama of scientific discovery, as well as its human consequences.
An excellent read - The fact that it is a true story makes it even more compelling. It summons the full gamut of emotions.
Apr 6, 2014
This story manages to combine science and human interest story and socio-cultural and racial issues all into one fascinating read. The reader learns a lot about about cell biology without it being a lecture, and unraveling the story of the family of Henrietta Lacks without preaching or pointing fingers, but still listing all the salient facts. Well written.
Dec 26, 2013
She is still Saving Lives
Henrietta Lack was a poor southern black with a large extended family. When she became ill with cancer, her tumors were used in research, and the tissues have replicated themselves for decades. They are still used in breast cancer research and are the basis for the discovery of the BRCA 1, and 2 genes, for which woman can now be tested, and preventive surgery done. It is a line of genetic breast cancer genes that run in families. This story is personal, fascinating, and still in the news- since Henrietta's family had no idea scientists around the world were using her tissue for research...and exposing their personal DNA to the world, as well as making millions off the sale of research tissue. I highly recommend it, and have given it to friends whose daughters tested positive. very readable and interesting as well as a hot topic today.
Jul 10, 2013
enjoyed the book. writer did a good job of telling the story without filters... i would recommend this book to young people interested in health related work definitely, and for general reading as well.
Mar 21, 2013
This is a fascinating book about people, family, science and the future of medical treatment. The author is gifted in keeping both the personal and scientific clear and engrossing.
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