Image

1:00 PM / Saturday October 23, 2021

13 Mar 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
March 13, 2011 Category: Education Posted by:

by Rebecca Skloot

Broadway

Paperback, $16.00

400 pages, illustrated

Book Review by Kam Williams


“Henrietta died in 1951 from a vicious case of cervical cancer… But before she died, a surgeon took samples of her tumor and put them in a Petri
dish. Scientists had been trying to keep human cells alive in culture for decades, but they all eventually died. Henrietta’s were different: they
reproduced an entire generation every 24 hours, and they never stopped. They became the first immortal human cells ever grown in a laboratory.


Henrietta’s cells have now been living outside her body far more than they ever lived inside it… If we went to almost any cell culture lab in the
world… we’d probably find millions—if not billions—of Henrietta’s cells in small vials on ice.

Image


Her cells were part of research into the genes that cause cancer and those that suppress it; they helped develop drugs for treating herpes,
leukemia, influenza, hemophilia, and Parkinson’s disease… Henrietta’s cells have become the standard laboratory workhorse.

were one of the most important things that happened to medicine in the last hundred years.”

–Excerpted from the Prologue (pages 3-4)

Anybody who thinks that the medical establishment’s secret exploitation of African-Americans in the name of science ended with the notorious Tuskegee
Experiment of 1932 has another think coming. Those familiar with the book Medical Apartheid are well aware that such nefarious practices have persisted
to the present.

However, the little-known case of Henrietta Lacks has got to be one of the most jaw-dropping yet. Born in Virginia in 1920, she grew up working in the
fields on the same tobacco farm in tiny Lackstown where her ancestors had toiled for generations as slaves. She married and became a mother of five
until, in 1951, she developed a very aggressive form of cervical cancer and passed away a few months later at the tender age of 31. She died a pauper
and her remains were buried in an unmarked grave.

That might very well have been the end of the story, except for the fact that, without her consent or even knowledge, doctors took a sample of her
cancerous tumor. As it turned out, her rapidly-reproducing malignant cells had a unique quality in that they were miraculously immortal. Eureka!
Cultured in the lab by research scientists, the landmark discovery would prove to be invaluable in the development of everything from the polio vaccine
to in-vitro fertilization to the Genome Project to cloning.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyhow, that the manufacture and sale of these so-called HeLa cells (a name coined by taking the first two
letters from Henrietta and Lacks) blossomed into a multi-million-dollar business. Patented and selling for as much as $10,000 per vial, the precious
substance has for decades returned quite a fortune for a couple of biotech companies. Yet, the impoverished descendants of the donor never shared in
the profits. To add insult to injury, many of them couldn’t even afford health insurance.

This shameful chapter in the annals of American medicine is revisited in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a remarkable biography written in
riveting prose by investigative journalist Rebecca Skloot. Very rarely do you come across a book this compelling about a relatively-obscure individual.

Thus, high praise indeed is in order for the author for fashioning such a compelling narrative of her humble subject’s life, death and everlasting gift
to humanity, while simultaneously shedding light on some serious ethical issues which had been conveniently swept under the rug until now.

To order a copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, visit here.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Leave a Comment

Recent News

Politics

Senate GOP again blocks Democrats’ election bill

October 21, 2021

Tweet Share Pin Email ABOVE PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., speaks to the media...

Sports

76ers boot Simmons from practice, suspend him for 1 game

October 21, 2021

Tweet Share Pin Email ABOVE PHOTO:  Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons takes part in a practice at the...

Health

CDC’s new education campaigns address increasing drug overdose deaths

October 21, 2021

Tweet Share Pin Email BPT Drug overdoses have claimed nearly 900,000 lives over the past 20 years...

Go With The-Flo

Rev. Al Sharpton is calling for a street in New York named after Robert E. Lee to be renamed in honor Colin Powell

October 21, 2021

Tweet Share Pin Email ABOVE PHOTO:  Rev. Al Sharpton By Flo Anthony After waving to a crowd...

Travel

Ready for adventure? Consider exploring this network of spectacular drives

October 21, 2021

Tweet Share Pin Email BPT There’s nothing quite like packing up your car and heading out onto...

Color Of Money

Five tips to make holiday shopping easier this year

October 21, 2021

Tweet Share Pin Email BPT The holidays are right around the corner, which means it’s time to...

The Philadelphia Sunday Sun Staff