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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Download eBook by Rebecca Skloot

Click Here to Download the Book 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? 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.

Reviews

This book has been sleeping in my to-read bookcase for a year. Struck down by fever and beginning to recuperate, but without energy to do much, I opened it yesterday morning, finally closing the back cover the same evening. I enjoyed it immensely. The author narrates the story, becoming a participant along the way, weaving two key


stories together very effectively: first, the history of tissue culture and the place the HeLa cell line has in that history; second, the realities of life as a poor, Black American in not only the 1940s and 1950s, but continuing through the 90s. Along the way, she provides insights into the latter story that contribute to understanding some of the circumstances that create a context for, or at least did in this family, the superficially antisocial, illogical behaviors described. Some of the details, like the rapacious fraudster who preyed on the family, seem too far out to be true, yet the author assures us that the story is wholly true. In her story of the development of cell culture, its role in life sciences and medicine, and the both helpful and harmful effects of HeLa on this history, she provides a realistic view of the bumpy progression of science, the initial altruism (although often elitist) of the scientists, and the ultimate influence of commercialization when it became clear that cell culture could make money. Scientists and physicians are portrayed realistically, from bad to good to in-between, both compassionate and cold, haughty and engaged. In other words, pretty much the characteristics of any human group. Despite the many failing of Johns Hopkins and its faculty/staff, the author neither condemns nor lauds the institution so central to the story. The story leaves the reader with the dilemma of what to do with it. Should we demand more regulation? A system to compensate the few "donors" of biological material that have large value? A system to channel some part of the profits back to all those who "donate" biological material? Or should we just yield the very essence of ourselves to capitalism, so often more about greed than caring (see today's banking system, for example). And what about the more pervasive themes of persistent discrimination and poverty, poor education, violence, ill health, and poor access to medical care. Boy, do we have a lot of things that need fixin' in our little corner of the world! Finally, the reader is left with the harsh juxtaposition of the scientist's description of cells and biological mechanisms and the Lacks family's belief that Henrietta remains a spiritual guiding force in the continuing good for humanity that her cancerous cells provided. The eternal dilemma of finding peaceful coexistence between science and faith.

This is an exceptional non-fiction book. I generally have a hard time reading non-fiction cover to cover, but this was exceptionally easy to read. I didn’t understand every bit of the science, but I did learn a lot - - about everything from HeLa cells (no, I never heard of them, although my husband and kids who are all science people, knew of them!), to fascinating medical issues related to tissue culture and issues related to the ethics of medical research, early work in radiation treatment, etc. The relationship between Rebecca and Deborah, actually Rebecca and all of the Lacks family, was fascinating; I was especially intrigued with the way Rebecca was able to “report on” Deborah’s personality and her struggles without being critical of judgmental. There were great insights into the lives of people so different from ourselves, right here in America. Also, I’m not a religious person, but I loved the way the family’s belief in Henrietta’s “being chosen by the Lord” (p. 296) was beautiful. The way Rebecca Skloot balanced the personal and scientific story was excellent. I noted that BookMarks magazine indicated that this book was listed more on Top 10 Nonfiction book titles lists than any other book in 2010. I do believe it deserved the accolades. I give this book an “A+”, and I would recommend it to everyone.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor woman in Baltimore with a particularly virulent form of cervical cancer. The cells harvested from her cervix became the first human cell line replicated in the lab, and to this day, HeLa cells, as they are known, form the basis of almost all cellular research, which has led to fantastic medical advances. Today, there are more HeLa cells in the world than existed in Lack's body when she was alive. Rebecca Skloot weaves together the story of the cells with the very painful story of the Lacks family, who had no idea that their mother's cells were being used in research until someone told them, decades your later, "your mother is still alive in a laboratory. " Poor and uneducated, they struggle to understand the significance of the cell lines and resent that they don't


even have health insurance, while others make money off their mother's cells. Skloot had to show tremendous persistence to win the trust of the Lacks family. The book does a very good job of balancing the human story with the scientific won and weighs the medical ethics with a subtle touch. Warning for the sensitive: there is some disturbing stuff in this book about the treatment of the poor and mentally disabled in the earlier part of the 20th century in this book.

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