Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The next book on my reading list is definitely going to be “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”

It tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black tobacco farmer who was the unwitting donor of cells from her cancerous tumor, which were cultured to create an immortal cell line for medical research. This is now known as the HeLa cell line and has had a groundbreaking impact on modern medicine. The book tracks the story of the source of the HeLa cells, Henrietta Lacks, and documents the cell line's impact on both modern medicine and the Lacks family.
Born in 1920, she died from an aggressive cervical cancer at 31, leaving behind five children. No obituaries of Mrs. Lacks appeared in newspapers. She was buried in an unmarked grave.
The cells taken from her tumor, without permission, were put into mass production and traveled around the globe- even into space, on an unmanned satellite to determine whether human tissues could survive zero gravity. They were the first immortal human cells ever grown in culture, and in the half-century since her death, have continually been used for research into cancer, AIDS, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, gene mapping, and countless other scientific pursuits.
Read the review of this book here, , and interview with the author Rebecca Skloot here.
As the New York Times states:
It is “a thorny and provocative book about cancer, racism, scientific ethics and crippling poverty...It is also, from first page to last, a meditation on medical ethics — on the notion of informed consent, and on the issue of who owns human cells. When they’re in your body, it’s obvious — they’re yours. But once they’ve been removed? All bets are clearly off."
I am sure you will be tempted to read this book.