The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Book - 2011
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Now an HBO#65533; Film starring Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne.

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.

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.
Publisher: New York : Broadway Books, [2011]
Edition: First movie tie-in paperback edition.
Copyright Date: ©2011
ISBN: 9780804190107
0804190100
Branch Call Number: 616.02774092 LACKS -S
Characteristics: xiv, 381 pages : illustrations (some color)

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DCLadults Apr 23, 2018

Skloot turned what was originally a very dry medical textbook history lesson into an intriguing human interest narrative. It was very informative and I enjoyed her ability of efficiently bringing the personalities of the key players back to life. However, I felt she made more of this story than was really there and it started to go off track about 2/3 of the way through, when the emphasis turned more towards the daughter and Henrietta’s other relations.

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katboxjanitor
Apr 03, 2018

What an amazing journey the family of Henrietta Lacks has been on!

I have been aware of the story of HeLa cell cultures based on NPR interviews\programs with Rebecca Skloot and I was in awe just from what I had heard there.

The acquisition and global use of cell cultures taken from Henrietta Lacks and this story of the impacts of her early death from a virulent form of cervical cancer.

Disturbing because it brought the disparities of race. The Lacks family of the early 1900s is a mix of white and black from the days of slave ownership followed by some share cropping (tobacco) and some intermarrying of too-closely related members of the family.

Medical care in the 1950s was still divided along color lines, physicians did not expect to be questioned and they presumed too much information would be distressing to patient and family.
A lot of unnecessary distress was caused to the Lacks family while they tried to understand what happened to Henrietta and needed someone to explain to them what a cell culture was - and was NOT. They struggled with this for more than 30 years until Ms Skloot helped connect them with Dr Lengauer, who was able to give them some insight into what HeLa is and showed Henrietta's daughter what the 'fuss' about HeLa is in a way that honored her memory.

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Yunlee91
Mar 23, 2018

This book is a marvel. It is a fascinating read of the history of Henrietta Lacks, a woman who had unknowingly contributed heavily to cancer research and the frightening irony of it all. It guides us through the memories of Henrietta Lacks's family members and the distress of her daughter Deborah who did not know anything about her mother. It is a must read for not just science lovers but young adults and older audiences.

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firefly5
Mar 04, 2018

I watched the dvd with Oprah Winfrey as Deborah. I do not like Oprah as an actor. I am sorry I watched the dvd it certainly spoiled the book for me.

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Ghettostone
Dec 27, 2017

"Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" the true story of a woman whose cells literally have reproduced themselves for more than 5 decades in medical labs around the world! Human cells die after so much time outside the body. The cells are used in cancer experiments, or HIV cure testing, or genenic disorders tests, but none live on past a certain testing date. Only one set of human cells have ever reproduced themselves and lived passed their experation date those cells are famous and they all belong to one woman, Henrietta Lacks! Born in Baltimore where her family discovers that their sister lives on in millions of people today.

The book featured photographs and family stories about the Lacks and some element of a biographical element but was marred by the blatant racism of the times and the medical industries use of individual's bio-cellular materials without consent, or compensation to desendents, even though millions of dollars have been made from the sale of Henrietta's cells.
The story is told by a lab assistant with a guilty conscience and brothers and sisters of Henrietta Lacks who dies of cancer while experimentation discoveries are made by utilization of these undead cells, which are, (hence the name) immortal! Unbelivable that science in the medical field has made such great advancements during this Era without paying any attention to the family of the cells creators. Not a good look America! But without this book who would have known about these increditable scientific discoveries was all on account of these cells that never die.

Not a bad storyline. While reading I hope for the best, but since it was a true story and in America and the people concerned were Black, well there went any hope for a happy ending. Most of the story was tough to read and leaves the reader frustrated. But immortal cells, come on this is a miracle! We all must see how this is impossible, but it's real....

I'm still recommending this book! The group was divided on their support versus their anger at the Medical Profession in 1960's America!

Ghettostone Editor/Chief
www.ghettostone.com
BEST SELLERS'S BOOK CLUB

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klimekk
Sep 20, 2017

learned a lot
and got caught by topic

d
dlh1
Aug 04, 2017

I really enjoyed this book, wanting to learn more after I watched the movie of the same name. The book gave a little more understanding of the mental state of Deborah, and a more in-depth look at what happened to her siblings, sons, and Henrietta's doctors in later years.

SCL_Toby Jul 22, 2017

This a very approachable book about medical and research ethics and race relations. Skloot's writing skills keep the reader engaged and she explains the science end of the story clearly. Henrietta Lacks' story is very interesting, and at times heartbreaking. Skloot addresses both the issues of race and medical and science ethics deftly, exploring the balance between the need for timely, well-done research and the need for patient privacy, information, and well-being. An excellent read.

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teachsanchez
Jun 18, 2017

Great read.

d
darladoodles
Jun 11, 2017

Fascinating story about Henrietta Lacks and how her cancer cells were acquired by John Hopkins and then proceeded to multiply all over the world and even in space.

Skloot spent considerable time working patiently with Henrietta's family and does an excellent job of explaining the science behind the story. She also thoroughly tackles the thorny issues of the informed consent and profitmaking surrounding the tissue and blood samples that are used in laboratories all over the world.

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prtzlwmstrd
Jun 17, 2015

True story of stolen body pieces of Everywoman Henrietta Lacks. Story readable despite presence of a great deal of science. Adult children search for their mother over years bearing up remarkably in face of medical-science establishment. Exceptional. Highly recommended.

Algonquin_Lisa Feb 24, 2011

A black woman's self-perpetuating cancer cells live past her own shortened life, providing doctors and scientists with an unparalleled opportunity to do nearly unlimited research. Her family, however, was unaware her cells were ever collected. In this book author Rebecca Skloot takes them on a journey to learn the extent to which their mother's cells changed the face of cancer research forever. Fascinating, and possibly the best work of nonfiction I've ever read.

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BookWormChelly Jul 08, 2013

“But I tell you one thing, I don't want to be immortal if it mean living forever, cause then everybody else just die and get old in front of you while you stay the same, and that's just sad.”

mrsgail5756 Apr 03, 2013

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” -George Washington

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CarolJ33
Mar 11, 2016

CarolJ33 thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

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