Evening Book Club - How Henrietta Helped Us All
February 10, 2011
It seems strange to think that one person in the 1950s unwittingly helped cure polio and changed medical science forever. It’s even stranger to think that the family of the woman, Henrietta Lacks, had no idea about it for decades.
Lacks, who died of cervical cancer in 1951, had cells taken from her carcinoma without her knowledge by doctors at Johns Hopkins. Dr. George Gey soon found that these cells were unlike others. They were able to be kept alive and grown. They became the first immortal cell line, named "HeLa". They were quickly mass-produced and used in thousands of medical experiments, including Jonas Salk’s research that led to creation of a polio vaccine. The cells continue to be grown and sold to medical researchers for use in wide-ranging experiments.
Rebecca Skloot’s non-fiction book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, follows the lives of Lacks and her ancestors while also delving into the scientific advancements. Many of Lacks’ children live in poverty in Baltimore, unable to get health insurance. Meanwhile, millions of dollars have been made by companies selling their mother’s cells.
The author, Rebecca Skloot, does a fine job of presenting all sides of the story without taking any moral stands. She presents what could be confusing scientific information in a very readable way and juxtaposes these ideas with the current lives of Lacks’ family. There’s nothing simple about weighing scientific progress against the hardships of Lacks and her family. And Skloot lets readers make their own decisions.
Editors at Amazon.com recently named The Immortal Life their Best Book of 2010.
The CR Evening Book Club discussed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks at its last meeting. February’s book is Last Night at the Lobster by Stuart O’Nan. Anyone interested in joining the group can call (816) 525-9924 and ask for Leigh to sign-up for emails.
Colbern Road Branch