The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Author :Rebecca Skloot
Number Pages :370
Language :English
Publish Date :February 2nd 2010
Publisher :Crown Publishing Group
Description :
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.
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 cellsu2014taken without her knowledgeu2014became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first u201cimmortalu201d 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, theyu2019d weigh more than 50 million metric tonsu2014as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bombu2019s 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 u201ccoloredu201d ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henriettau2019s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia u2014 a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo u2014 to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.

Henriettau2019s family did not learn of her u201cimmortalityu201d 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 u2014 past and present u2014 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 familyu2014especially Henriettau2019s daughter Deborah, who was devastated to learn about her motheru2019s 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 couldnu2019t 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.


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