The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Downloadable Audiobook - 2010
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Now a major motion picture from HBO#65533; starring Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne.

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 vacci≠ 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.
Publisher: Random House Digital,, 2010
Edition: Unabridged
ISBN: 9780307712530
Call Number: EAUDIOBOOK AXIS 360
Characteristics: text file,rda
1 online resource
Additional Contributors: Baker & Taylor Axis 360


From Library Staff

This biography examines the experiences of the family of Henrietta Lacks, who, twenty years after her death in 1951, learned researchers took cells from her cervix without consent, which were used to create the immortal cell line known as the HeLa cell.

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JCLJoyceM Mar 20, 2017

You have to admire the author’s pursuit of this story in spite of the many times that Henrietta’s family waffled in their cooperation. Given the family’s treatment by hospitals, it is entirely understandable that they would hesitate. They became aware of the extraordinary ways the cells were being used for medical research, but could barely afford to see a doctor themselves.
I listened to the audio version. If I’d had the print version, I probably would have skipped some of the chapters related to the science details.

Andover1 Sep 10, 2015

Wanted to listend to this book, DID NOT enjoy the experience. This is a great book, read it instead!

bbonier Jan 19, 2013

Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman who died of cervical cancer at the age of 30, leaving behind 5 small children. She was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and her doctor took samples of her cervical cells, both normal and cancerous, to use for his tissue research. All the other cells that he had tried to keep alive died. But Henrietta's continued to reproduce at an alarming rate. Thus was born the HeLa cell. The doctor distributed the cells for research to other scientists and the cells became an important tool in developing the polio vaccine. They were also used in uncovering secrets of cancer, viruses and the atom bomb's effects, leading to important medical advances that have saved many lives. All the while the Lacks family was kept in the dark and did not receive any compensation. Very well read by Cassandra Campbell with Bahni Turpin.

Aug 26, 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks raises all sorts of ticklish issues, and is an important read for anyone who wants to understand the possible ramifications, both positive and negative, of ever-advancing technology in the research and medical communities. Some have criticized the author's approach, suggesting there's just too much of Skloot herself in the book. I felt that at times while reading the book, but overall believe that Skloot's interaction with the Lacks family and the personal relationship she established with them did more to enhance than to harm the telling of this story. Apart from her relationship with the Lackses, I doubt Skloot would have been able to bring the person of Henrietta to life as she did. I wish there were clear answers to the issues raised by The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but at least Skloot has gotten the questions on the table.

Aug 19, 2012

This is a work of non-fiction but told as a narrative. It is formatted so you get a mixture of anecdotal story and documentary facts; all interwoven to create a compelling read. The subject matter is primarily about the lack of formal consent needed by doctors to harvest anyone’s cells or tissues during common medical examinations and the total absence of regulation by researchers /scientists to use this biological material in an endless variety of tests, trials, and purposes. The narrative is about the huge impact this has on a poor black family, when the truth surfaces about a deceased family member whose super viable cells have been harvested and used extensively for many years in innumerable ways, from testing how human cells react to nuclear radiation to sending them into space, to playing an important part in finding vaccines and cancer treatments.
This book raises quite a few controversial questions like should people be told if their cells are being harvested? Should patients have the right to determine how and to what purpose their cells are being used and should they be able to share in the profits of big pharmaceutical companies seeing as they were a major contributor to their discoveries? Would doing so impede the progress of science? This was an eye-opener for me and a thoroughly enlightening experience. If this sounds like a real x- file episode, it is because it is one. This is a subject everyone needs to be aware of.

Jan 07, 2011

Boy, did Skloot get the story of a lifetime here. I think others might have written it better, but kudos to her for pursuing it. It's absolutely mindblowing that a huge portion (majority?) of medical research has been performed on the cell tissue of one woman, a young black mother who died at 31--and that her children never knew that modern medicine was built upon their mother's back.


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