Tuesday, August 16, 2016
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
I had seen this book in the library before, but I was never compelled to pick it up and check it out. I wish I had read it sooner. It is one of my favorite books this year.
Until I read this book, I had never heard of HeLa cells. Unless you are in medical research, you may not have heard about them either. HeLa is short for Henrietta Lacks. She was a real person who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore. Her cells were taken from her body without her knowledge or permission, and they are still living today.
Henrietta's cells were unusual in that they lived and thrived in petri dishes. Because of this, they have been instrumental to research breakthroughs for polio, cancer, influenza and AIDS.
Rebecca Skloot spent ten years researching Henrietta's life, family and death and then writing a book about what she found. She put a face to HeLa cells and helped Henrietta's family sort out their confusion about what her cells have meant to science.
This book would make great required reading for all high school or college biology classes. But if you are past that, read it for the fascinating story.