The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
(Crown Books, 2010, 384 pages)
When someone makes an important contribution to science, they are usually recognized and praised. The woman behind the HeLa cells, which were responsible for the polio vaccine, gene mapping, and advances in cancer research to name a few, has finally gotten the recognition that she and her family deserve more than half a century after she died.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the story of Henrietta’s life, her family, and her immortal cells. Henrietta died in 1951 of cervical cancer but before she died, her cells were taken as a sample and became the first human cell line to continue to grow and multiply outside of Henrietta’s body. Her cells were used to make many medical advances and participated in a variety of different types of research, including being flown into space to see how human cells would react in that environment. Although Henrietta’s cells, known as HeLa, were and still are making many advances in science, her family was not aware that Henrietta’s cells were still alive and making a profit until almost twenty years after she died.
This is a great read and Skloot provided lots of information on the incredible advances that the HeLa cells have made, but I found myself much more interested in the story about who Henrietta was and her family’s life now. It’s saddening to realize how far we’ve come because of Henrietta Lacks, however her children and family are still suffering without health insurance today.