In a stunning piece of science writing and literary journalism, author Rebecca Skloot tells a powerful story of medical ethics wrapped in the very personal human story of one African-American family over the past 50 years. It’s the story of Henrietta Lacks, a name few people recognize. But you can visit laboratories around the world and find cells from the HeLa cell line – He for Henrietta, La for Lacks – her cells grown in culture, still alive today and in use around the world even though she died in 1951. Neither she nor her family knew that as she was dying of cervical cancer some of her cells were taken and cultured and multiplied – becoming the first successful “immortal” cultured cell line for medical research.
As Skloot’s website publicity page states, she “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.”
Normally I’m not a “can’t put this down” kind of book reader. But “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” just kept tugging at me. What I read was an advance copy. The book will be released February 2. Don’t miss this one.