Just finished a very interesting book: ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot.
Henrietta was an African-American woman from Baltimore. Her cells, her cancerous cells became the first cell line to multiple continuously in the 1950s. They thus became ‘immortal’ and went on to play an exceedingly important role in medical research.
Her cells were taken without her permission. And while those cells (known as HeLa cells), were used extensively in scientific research (everything from polio to AIDS, the effect of space travel and nuclear reaction), it also spawned a multi-billion dollar industry. For decades her family lacked the knowledge of HeLa’s contribution, and never had a chance to benefit from the commercialization of her cells.
The book shows us who the person behind HeLa was and even more strikingly, her daughter Deborah. It raises numerous questions about bio-ethics, poverty and race. It shares with us the author’s journey as she wins the trust of Henrietta’s family and descendants.
A recommended read.