The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Review

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – written by Rebecca Skloot

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Back Cover

“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 1951-became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta’s cells have ben bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance. This phenomenal New York Times bestseller 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.”

My Review

I first read this book about 3 years ago.  Haven worked in cell/tissue culture for many  years, even I was unaware of the origins of not only HELA cells but, the genesis of immortal cell-lines as a whole. I was further unaware that it involved cells taken from a black woman! You never hear about this during black history month. The book for me revealed how little the general public understands about the very work that is being done by scientist around the world to help improve all of our lives. It also showed me how important it is to bridge this gap, because there are many social and political factors that affect whether, how, and which research is performed and even funded. In school we learn the basics of science, but there is little to no emphasis on how that science relates to everyday life. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks really illustrates these points. It was a fascinating, eye-opening, and at times heartbreaking read. I think you will enjoy it; I read the entire book in one day and still decided to buy it afterwards.

HeLa Cells

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The first Immortal cell-line used to perform in vitro scientific research. Cell-lines are cells from organs, tissue, blood, or tumors that are grown in an artificial environment (petri dish or flask) outside of the body in a laboratory. Immortal cell-lines are those that can be grown (cultured) indefinitely while retaining its characteristics, these are usually derived from tumors/cancer cells. Cell-lines can be from human cells or animal cells, and they allow researchers to carry out experiments quicker, cheaper, and safer with little to no ethical complications.

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