The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot









The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot

Summary
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 vaccine; 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?nbsp; nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp; 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.

Biographee
NameLacks, Henrietta
GenderFemale
Dates1920-1951
AttributesAfrican American
Married
Mother
Cancer patient
Black mother of five in Baltimore when she died of cervical cancer (1951); doctors treating her took tissue samples from her cervix for research; without her knowledge; lead to the creation of the first viable productive cell line; named HeLa; aided in medical discoveries from the polio vaccine to AIDS treatments


Genre
NonFiction
    --
Historical
    --
Medical
    --
Sociological
    --
Biography

Topics
Cancer patients
Medical research
Medical ethics
Science history
Science
African American women
African Americans
Racism
Women
Sociology
American history
Black history

Setting
Virginia -- South (U.S.)
-- United States

Time Period
-- 20th century






A Few Words About This Bookp. ix
Prologue: The Woman in the Photographp. 1
Deborah's Voicep. 9
Part 1Life
1  The Exam...1951p. 13
2  Clover...1920- 1942p. 18
3  Diagnosis and Treatment...1951p. 27
4  The Birth of HeLa...1951p. 34
5  "Blackness Be Spreadin All Inside"...1951p. 42
6  "Lady's on the Phone"...1999p. 49
7  The Death and Life of Cell Culture...1951p. 56
8  "A Miserable Specimen"...1951p. 63
9  Turner Station...1999p. 67
10  The Other Side of the Tracks...1999p. 77
11  "The Devil of Pain Itself"...1951p. 83
Part 2Death
12  The Storm...1951p. 89
13  The HeLa Factory...1951-1953p. 93
14  Helen Lane...1953-1954p. 105
15  "Too Young to Remember"...1951-1965p. 110
16  "Spending Eternity in the Same Place"...1999p. 118
17  Illegal, Immoral, and Deplorable...1954-1966p. 127
18  "Strangest Hybrid"...1960-1966p. 137
19  "The Most Critical Time on This Earth Is Now"...1966-1973p. 144
20  The HeLa Bomb...1966p. 152
21  Night Doctors...2000p. 158
22  "The Fame She So Richly Deserves"...1970-1973p. 170
Part 3Immortality
23  "It's Alive"...1973-1974p. 179
24  "Least They Can Do"...1975p. 191
25  "Who Told You You Could Sell My Spleen?"...1976-1988p. 199
26  Breach of Privacy...1980-1985p. 207
27  The Secret of Immortality...1984-1995p. 212
28  After London...1996-1999p. 218
29  A Village of Henriettas...2000p. 232
30  Zakariyya...2000p. 241
31  Hela, Goddess of Death...2000-2002p. 250
32  "All That's My Mother"...2001p. 259
33  The Hospital for the Negro Insane...2001p. 268
34  The Medical Records...2001p. 279
35  Soul Cleansing...2001p. 286
36  Heavenly Bodies...2001p. 294
37  "Nothing to Be Scared About"...2001p. 297
38  The Long Road to Clover...2009p. 305
Where They Are Nowp. 311
Afterwordp. 315
Acknowledgmentsp. 329
Notesp. 338
Indexp. 359




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 vaccine; 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?nbsp; nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp; 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.





Rebecca Sklootnbsp;is an award-winning science writer whose work has appeared innbsp; The New York Times Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; Discover; nbsp;and many others. She is coeditor ofnbsp; The Best American Science Writing 2011nbsp; and has worked as a correspondent for NPR'snbsp; Radiolabnbsp; and PBS's Novanbsp; ScienceNOW . She was namednbsp;one of five surprising leaders of 2010 by the nbsp;Washington Post . Skloot's debut book,nbsp; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, took more than a decade tonbsp;research and write, and instantly became anbsp; New York Timesnbsp; bestseller. It was chosen as a best book of 2010 by more than sixty media outlets, includingnbsp; Entertainment Weekly , nbsp;People, and the New York Times .nbsp; Itnbsp; is being translated into more than twenty-five languages, adapted into a young reader edition, and being made into an HBO film produced by Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball.nbsp;Skloot is the founder and president of The Henrietta Lacks Foundation. She has a B.S. in biological sciences and annbsp;MFAnbsp;in creative nonfiction. She has taught creative writing and science journalism at the University of Memphis, the University of Pittsburgh, and New York University. She lives in Chicago.nbsp;For more information, visit her website at RebeccaSkloot.com, where you'll find links to follow her on Twitter and Facebook.nbsp;





This distinctive work skillfully puts a human face on the bioethical questions surrounding the HeLa cell line. Henrietta Lacks, an African American mother of five, was undergoing treatment for cancer at Johns Hopkins University in 1951 when tissue samples were removed without her knowledge or permission and used to create HeLa, the first "immortal" cell line. HeLa has been sold around the world and used in countless medical research applications, including the development of the polio vaccine. Science writer Skloot, who worked on this book for ten years, entwines Lacks's biography, the development of the HeLa cell line, and her own story of building a relationship with Lacks's children. Full of dialog and vivid detail, this reads like a novel, but the science behind the story is also deftly handled. Verdict While there are other titles on this controversy (e.g., Michael Gold's A Conspiracy of Cells: One Woman's Immortal Legacy-and the Medical Scandal It Caused), this is the most compelling account for general readers, especially those interested in questions of medical research ethics. Highly recommended. [See Skloot's essay, p. 126; Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/09.]-Carla Lee, Univ. of Virginia Lib., Charlottesville (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.





Science journalist Skloot makes a remarkable debut with this multilayered story about "faith, science, journalism, and grace." It is also a tale of medical wonders and medical arrogance, racism, poverty and the bond that grows, sometimes painfully, between two very different women-Skloot and Deborah Lacks-sharing an obsession to learn about Deborah's mother, Henrietta, and her magical, immortal cells. Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year-old black mother of five in Baltimore when she died of cervical cancer in 1951. Without her knowledge, doctors treating her at Johns Hopkins took tissue samples from her cervix for research. They spawned the first viable, indeed miraculously productive, cell line-known as HeLa. These cells have aided in medical discoveries from the polio vaccine to AIDS treatments. What Skloot so poignantly portrays is the devastating impact Henrietta's death and the eventual importance of her cells had on her husband and children. Skloot's portraits of Deborah, her father and brothers are so vibrant and immediate they recall Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's Random Family. Writing in plain, clear prose, Skloot avoids melodrama and makes no judgments. Letting people and events speak for themselves, Skloot tells a rich, resonant tale of modern science, the wonders it can perform and how easily it can exploit society's most vulnerable people. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved





*Starred Review* The first immortal human cells, code-named HeLa, have flourished by the trillions in labs all around the world for more than five decades, making possible the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, and many more crucial discoveries. But where did the HeLa cells come from? Science journalist Skloot spent 10 years arduously researching the complex, tragic, and profoundly revealing story of Henrietta Lacks, a 31-year-old African American mother of five who came to Johns Hopkins with cervical cancer in 1951, and from whom tumor samples were taken without her knowledge or that of her family. Henrietta died a cruel death and was all but forgotten, while her miraculous cells live on, growing with mythological intensity. Skloot travels to tiny Clover, Virginia; learns that Henrietta's family tree embraces black and white branches; becomes close to Henrietta's daughter, Deborah; and discovers that although the HeLa cells have improved countless lives, they have also engendered a legacy of pain, a litany of injustices, and a constellation of mysteries. Writing with a novelist's artistry, a biologist's expertise, and the zeal of an investigative reporter, Skloot tells a truly astonishing story of racism and poverty, science and conscience, spirituality and family driven by a galvanizing inquiry into the sanctity of the body and the very nature of the life force.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2009 Booklist





PROLOGUE The Woman in the Photograph There's a photo on my wall of a woman I've never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape. She looks straight into the camera and smiles, hands on hips, dress suit neatly pressed, lips painted deep red. It's the late 1940s and she hasn't yet reached the age of thirty. Her light brown skin is smooth, her eyes still young and playful, oblivious to the tumor growing inside her--a tumor that would leave her five children motherless and change the future of medicine. Beneath the photo, a caption says her name is "Henrietta Lacks, Helen Lane or Helen Larson."             No one knows who took that picture, but it's appeared hundreds of times in magazines and science textbooks, on blogs and laboratory walls. She's usually identified as Helen Lane, but often she has no name at all. She's simply called HeLa, the code name given to the world's first immortal human cells-- her cells, cut from her cervix just months before she died.             Her real name is Henrietta Lacks. I've spent years staring at that photo, wondering what kind of life she led, what happened to her children, and what she'd think about cells from her cervix living on forever--bought, sold, packaged, and shipped by the trillions to laboratories around the world. I've tried to imagine how she'd feel knowing that her cells went up in the first space missions to see what would happen to human cells in zero gravity, or that they helped with some of the most important advances in medicine: the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization. I'm pretty sure that she--like most of us--would be shocked to hear that there are trillions more of her cells growing in laboratories now than there ever were in her body.              There's no way of knowing exactly how many of Henrietta's cells are alive today. One scientist estimates that if you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they'd weigh more than 50 million metric tons--an inconceivable number, given that an individual cell weighs almost nothing. Another scientist calculated that if you could lay all HeLa cells ever grown end-to-end, they'd wrap around the Earth at least three times, spanning more than 350 million feet. In her prime, Henrietta herself stood only a bit over five feet tall.            I first learned about HeLa cells and the woman behind them in 1988, thirty-seven years after her death, when I was sixteen and sitting in a community college biology class. My instructor, Donald Defler, a gnomish balding man, paced at the front of the lecture hall and flipped on an overhead projector. He pointed to two diagrams that appeared on the wall behind him. They were schematics of the cell reproduction cycle, but to me they just looked like a neon-colored mess of arrows, squares, and circles with words I didn't understand, like "MPF Triggering a Chain Reaction of Protein Activations."              I was a kid who'd failed freshman year at the regular public high school because she never showed up. I'd transferred to an alternative school that offered dream studies instead of biology, so I was taking Defler's class for high-school credit, which meant that I was sitting in a college lecture hall at sixteen with words like mitosis and kinase inhibitors flying around. I was completely lost.             "Do we have to memorize everything on tho Excerpted from The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.






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