The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
This book stuck with me long after I turned the last page. Henrietta didn’t know she was contributing to science, but her cells made it possible for researchers to progress in the fight against cancer. Her cells were unusual and the first “immortal” cells discovered. She died in 1951, but her cells are still being used today in cancer research. It was common practice at the time to take cells for study without telling the patient. For years, her family members were unaware that her cells were being reproduced and used in vital research.
While her cells were well known, the identity and story of the donor wasn’t. This book is the product of ten years researching the family and the science behind HeLa, the identifying label given to Henrietta’s cells.
The question of medical ethics was often in my mind as I read. It’s a complicated story. I came away with profound gratitude for Henrietta’s contribution to science, and sorrow at the way her family was treated. A sad but important story.
A true story written in a style as compelling as any novel.
2011 Winner of the National Academies Communication Award