The immortal life of henrietta

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the immortal life of henrietta

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by 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, 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.

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - A USF Faculty Discussion

Eternal Life

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. 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? 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. Henrietta was a poor black woman only 31 years of age when she died of cervical cancer leaving five children behind, her youngest, Deborah, just a baby.

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Even before killing Lacks herself in , they took on a life of their own. Removed during a biopsy and cultured without her permission, the HeLa cells named from the first two letters of her first and last names reproduced boisterously in a lab at Johns Hopkins — the first human cells ever to do so. HeLa became an instant biological celebrity, traveling to research labs all over the world. Scientists have grown some 50 million metric tons of her cells, and you can get some for yourself simply by calling an number. HeLa has helped build thousands of careers, not to mention more than 60, scientific studies, with nearly 10 more being published every day, revealing the secrets of everything from aging and cancer to mosquito mating and the cellular effects of working in sewers. HeLa is so outrageously robust that if one cell lands in a petri dish, it proceeds to take over. And so, like any good celebrity, HeLa had a scandal: In it became clear that HeLa had contaminated hundreds of cell lines, destroying research as far away as Russia.

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ISBN: hardcover. I must start off this review by admitting that although I had seen this book reviewed in publications ranging from the New York Post to Entertainment Weekly magazine and everything in between, I guessed that I, as a scientist trained in cell biology, would not enjoy it. What could I possibly learn? I assumed that a book on the subject of HeLa cells written for the general public would be beneath me. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Henrietta Lacks was a woman who unknowingly donated her cells here at Hopkins in , beginning what was the first, and, for many years, the only human cell line able to reproduce indefinitely. Her cells, known as HeLa cells for He nrietta La cks, remain a remarkably durable and prolific line of cells used in research around the world. This guide addresses several important health care, research and ethical themes addressed in the book and in the movie. Johns Hopkins applauds and regularly participates in efforts to raise awareness of the life and story of Henrietta Lacks. We were proud to support the book research and development of the film by providing full access to the Hopkins archives and granting permission to HBO to film several scenes for the movie on the Hopkins campus. View our phone directory or find a patient care location.

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in —became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew. Also explore the resources found throughout this site for book groups, classrooms, and more. And click here to read excerpts of the book. Photos, videos, and more for teachers and students.

1 thoughts on “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks () is a non-fiction book by American author Rebecca Skloot. It was the winner of the National Academies.

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