The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Author:Rebecca Skloot 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, thoug... more »h 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?« less
As someone who has worked in labs and often heard about HeLa cells, I looked forward to learning more about their origins. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks started off as riveting storytelling about Henrietta Lacks, a poor African-American woman being treated at Johns Hopkins for cervical cancer in the 1950s. Without her knowledge, a biopsy of her tumor was used to create the first immortal human cell line, which was then used in myriad ways to advance scientific knowledge. Initially Rebecca Skloot was adroitly juggling three story lines—Henrietta's life story, the scientific breakthroughs, and approaching the scarred Lacks family—but the rhythm disappeared when she was left with primarily Henrietta's descendants. Skloot has invested considerable time and patience to ingratiate herself to the Lackses; perhaps that is why the story continues for several chapters after Henrietta's reach ends and the cells are almost always referred to as "Henrietta's cells." It's astonishing to see the level of miscommunication and disconnect between the scientists and the family. The Afterword is an interesting and more neutral look at the ethics of property rights on biological material.
Lyrel B. (lyrel) reviewed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on
Helpful Score: 12
Very well researched and explained. Though I have a science background, I think the topic is very accessible to non-science types. The book is about psychology, medicine, politics, ethics, and the general human condition all mashed together.
Nat S. reviewed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on
Helpful Score: 9
An excellent read. Explores the history of one of the most prolific human culture cell lines that I myself used as a graduate student! Even if you have no since background, the science is well explained without being broing or overwhelming.
Also explores history of routine mistreatment of African Americans by medical professionals in America and the lingering mistrust even today. It is also the story of family that lost their mother too soon and the unending trap that lack of education is
crackabook reviewed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on
Helpful Score: 6
This was a fascinating true story about the cancer cells of Henrietta Lacks taken, grown for research, all without her or her families knowledge. We learn about her and her family up until present day plus all of the science in between which brought us vaccines and insight into the human body not known before due too the culture of these cells living to this day. DO NOT miss this book, have no fear Rececca Skloot pens this book in such a way that no degree is needed to understand it and you are sure to be moved by the contents. A must read for all who walk on this earth.
This is a amazing true tale of a poor black woman in the '50's that found herself sick. She went to John Hopkins hospital and was examined, and they found a growth on her uterus like Henrietta told them about.
The doctor did what they could in treatment options of those days, and also took two samples of the cells on her uterus.
These cell began to grow in the petri dishes and cultures and the rest is history.
This book is rich in history and pain the Lacks' have gone through to get truth told about thier mother.
This book was very well researched but also personal and engaging. Not a dry history lesson for certain. I really liked this book and could not put it down.
I hope this book sells like hot cakes and gives the Lack family and the author some monitary gain for the future. My copy was the ARC, selling on eBAy
My first lab job involved learning cell culture. I've since worked with HeLa cells and gone through years of grad school without giving thought to the origins of HeLa. Sad to read this book and think how this could have happened to anyone. Well written, not as technical or science-laden as one might think. Author did an excellent job portraying the Lacks family with just the right amount of sympathy without painting researchers and doctors as "evil."