Friday Morning Bookclub

December 29, 2010

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks By Rebecca Skloot

Filed under: Book Recomendations,The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks — susanbright @ 11:28 pm

I had never even heard of the HPV virus until a few years ago when I saw the “One Less” campaign commercial encouraging young women to get the new vaccine Gardasil for this virus which could lead to cervical cancer. Nor did I ever think about how these vaccines are developed. I now know that a African-American women living in Baltimore was largely responsible for the development of this vaccine as well as the vaccine for polio, however few people have ever heard of her.

Henrietta Lacks, born Loretta Pleasant in 1920 in Virginia, moved to Baltimore in 1943 when her husband took a job at Sparrows Point shipyards.  In 1951, after finding what she described as a “knot” in her cervix, Henrietta went to Johns Hopkins hospital to have it checked out only to discover that she had cervical cancer. ” She happened to walk into Hopkins at a time when scientists were trying to grow human cells in culture and were taking cells from anybody they could,” said Skloot. No one had ever seen cancer cells multiply outside the body the way Lack’s did!  These were the first immoral cells ever! These cells kept growing and did not die after division as past cells had. George Gey the researcher who first discovered these cells took Henrietta’s initials and named the cells HeLa.  Although Lacks died in 1951 her cells are still alive and being used in medical research today.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was an amazing story as well as a controversial story. Because of the HeLa cells, discoveries have been made, lives have been saved and many have even benefitted financially. However, Henrietta’s family had no idea that her cells were being used for medical research and contend that doctors were not given permission to take her cells and that they should be compensated. This brings up so many questions as to what a patients rights are and even what happens to all of our cells taken for cultures and biopsies. I learned more about cells, and DNA than I ever learned in high school biology.  I got to know the Lack’s family,  many of which  were uneducated and lived in poverty and was shocked to read about how African-American patients were treated in the 1950’s.

Rebecca Skloot did a wonderful job of telling Henrietta’s story, and the inclusion of pictures of Henrietta and her family brought her story to life. This was definitely a story worth telling!



  1. The librarian at my school reccommended The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.She said it was great. We are reading Breathing Lessons in my one group for Jan. and The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo in my other group.Happy New Year Susan !! I really enjoy the blog!! Cathy

    Comment by Cathy Junkin — December 31, 2010 @ 8:15 am | Reply

  2. I purchased this book before going on a beach vacation, but didn’t start it. Yet, I am glad to hear it is on someone’s radar. It looked really good and readers on Amazon really liked it. Ann

    Comment by Ann Walter — January 4, 2011 @ 4:16 pm | Reply

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