Saturday, December 4, 2010

by Rebecca Skloot

Her cells have helped develop a vaccine for polio; been used for cloning, viruses; studied for appendicitis, sexually transmitted diseases; instrumental in creating medicines to treat hemophilia, leukemia; and have even gone up in space. There are billions of them in laboratories all over the world. They are known, to scientists, as HeLa cells and became the first "immortal" human cells grown in culture. The reason they are called immortal is because the cells have lived outside the body, have never died and have never stopped reproducing. They came from a poor black woman named Henrietta Lacks who had cervical cancer. Before she died, in 1951, samples of her cells were taken from her tumor without her knowledge.
Twenty years after Henrietta's death, her family found out and it was not a pretty picture.
Rebecca Skloot takes the reader on an incredible journey which started for herself when she was sixteen taking biology. It was here that she first heard of Henrietta Lacks and her amazing cells. Eventually, Rebecca would meet the family and through many years of research would uncover both devastating and remarkable stuff.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a stupendous story. Although a science writer, Skloot is able to explain all the intricacies of cells in such beautiful detail.
She writes about ethics, racism, poverty, experimentation as one story and intertwines the Lacks family as another story to create one magnificent tale.
I loved this book. It made me both laugh and cry.
Not to be missed.
Very highly recommended.