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The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks
2010
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Fiction/Biography Profile
Genre
NonFiction
History
Medical
Sociology
Science
Cinematization
Topics
Cancer patients
Medical research
Medical ethics
Science history
Science
African American women
African Americans
Racism
Women
Sociology
American history
Black history
Setting
Virginia - South (U.S.)
- United States
Time Period
-- 20th century
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Trade Reviews

  Library Journal Review

This distinctive work skillfully puts a human face on the bioethical questions surrounding the HeLa cell line. Henrietta Lacks, an African American mother of five, was undergoing treatment for cancer at Johns Hopkins University in 1951 when tissue samples were removed without her knowledge or permission and used to create HeLa, the first "immortal" cell line. HeLa has been sold around the world and used in countless medical research applications, including the development of the polio vaccine. Science writer Skloot, who worked on this book for ten years, entwines Lacks's biography, the development of the HeLa cell line, and her own story of building a relationship with Lacks's children. Full of dialog and vivid detail, this reads like a novel, but the science behind the story is also deftly handled. Verdict While there are other titles on this controversy (e.g., Michael Gold's A Conspiracy of Cells: One Woman's Immortal Legacy-and the Medical Scandal It Caused), this is the most compelling account for general readers, especially those interested in questions of medical research ethics. Highly recommended. [See Skloot's essay, p. 126; Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/09.]-Carla Lee, Univ. of Virginia Lib., Charlottesville (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Publishers Weekly Review

Science journalist Skloot makes a remarkable debut with this multilayered story about "faith, science, journalism, and grace." It is also a tale of medical wonders and medical arrogance, racism, poverty and the bond that grows, sometimes painfully, between two very different women-Skloot and Deborah Lacks-sharing an obsession to learn about Deborah's mother, Henrietta, and her magical, immortal cells. Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year-old black mother of five in Baltimore when she died of cervical cancer in 1951. Without her knowledge, doctors treating her at Johns Hopkins took tissue samples from her cervix for research. They spawned the first viable, indeed miraculously productive, cell line-known as HeLa. These cells have aided in medical discoveries from the polio vaccine to AIDS treatments. What Skloot so poignantly portrays is the devastating impact Henrietta's death and the eventual importance of her cells had on her husband and children. Skloot's portraits of Deborah, her father and brothers are so vibrant and immediate they recall Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's Random Family. Writing in plain, clear prose, Skloot avoids melodrama and makes no judgments. Letting people and events speak for themselves, Skloot tells a rich, resonant tale of modern science, the wonders it can perform and how easily it can exploit society's most vulnerable people. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Summary
Now a major motion picture from HBO#65533; starring Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne.<br> <br> 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 vacci≠ 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.<br> <br> Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.<br> <br> 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.<br> <br> 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.<br> <br> 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? <br> <br> 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.
Table of Contents
A Few Words About This Bookp. ix
Prologue: The Woman in the Photographp. 1
Deborah's Voicep. 9
Part 1Life
1The Exam...1951p. 13
2Clover...1920- 1942p. 18
3Diagnosis and Treatment...1951p. 27
4The Birth of HeLa...1951p. 34
5"Blackness Be Spreadin All Inside"...1951p. 42
6"Lady's on the Phone"...1999p. 49
7The Death and Life of Cell Culture...1951p. 56
8"A Miserable Specimen"...1951p. 63
9Turner Station...1999p. 67
10The Other Side of the Tracks...1999p. 77
11"The Devil of Pain Itself"...1951p. 83
Part 2Death
12The Storm...1951p. 89
13The HeLa Factory...1951-1953p. 93
14Helen Lane...1953-1954p. 105
15"Too Young to Remember"...1951-1965p. 110
16"Spending Eternity in the Same Place"...1999p. 118
17Illegal, Immoral, and Deplorable...1954-1966p. 127
18"Strangest Hybrid"...1960-1966p. 137
19"The Most Critical Time on This Earth Is Now"...1966-1973p. 144
20The HeLa Bomb...1966p. 152
21Night Doctors...2000p. 158
22"The Fame She So Richly Deserves"...1970-1973p. 170
Part 3Immortality
23"It's Alive"...1973-1974p. 179
24"Least They Can Do"...1975p. 191
25"Who Told You You Could Sell My Spleen?"...1976-1988p. 199
26Breach of Privacy...1980-1985p. 207
27The Secret of Immortality...1984-1995p. 212
28After London...1996-1999p. 218
29A Village of Henriettas...2000p. 232
30Zakariyya...2000p. 241
31Hela, Goddess of Death...2000-2002p. 250
32"All That's My Mother"...2001p. 259
33The Hospital for the Negro Insane...2001p. 268
34The Medical Records...2001p. 279
35Soul Cleansing...2001p. 286
36Heavenly Bodies...2001p. 294
37"Nothing to Be Scared About"...2001p. 297
38The Long Road to Clover...2009p. 305
Where They Are Nowp. 311
Afterwordp. 315
Acknowledgmentsp. 329
Notesp. 338
Indexp. 359
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