Sarah's Reviews > The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
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's review
Sep 29, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: science, biography, african-american, non-fiction, medicine
Read in September, 2011

In 1951 Henrietta Lacks, a young black woman, went to John Hopkins Hospital to receive radiation for her cervical cancer. John Hopkins was the only local hospital that would treat black patients. Her doctor took several samples of her cancerous tumor. Then, without her knowledge or consent, her doctor used those cells, which reproduced at alarmingly high rates, to grow a strain of cells to use in medical research. Henrietta died from complications associated with her cancer.

But her cells are still in use today, and are called HeLa cells, named after their donor's first and last name. Many scientific advances have been made and created to the use of these cells, yet Henrietta's family has not seen any financial acknowledgement, or received sufficient gratitude from the scientific community, for her mother's cell line.

Skloot is able to develop a relationship with the surviving Lacks family. They are distrusting of the medical industry, as they have been hounded for years by reporters and investigators curious about their mother. They have been misled, misinformed, and even had requests for their personal DNA to further research.

This non-fiction investigative report is personal, readable and digestible for those who don't have a science background. Skloot looks into the ethics of medical testing, patient confidentiality, and she even describes how blurry the law stands today. This is a moving, powerful account of one woman's contributions to scientific research, and how it all happened without her knowledge and consent.
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