Summary: 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…Read more.
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Rebecca Skloot: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Audio Book Summary
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was published by science writer Rebecca Skloot in 2010. The book tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, the woman who the immortal cell line HeLa came from. Although Skloot had been obsessed with Lacks for some time, few people were familiar with her before the book’s publication.
In Skloot’s book, she discusses both her experience as she tries to write the books and the information that she finds. Skloot is frustrated that there is so little information available about Lacks, and she wants to find a way to tell her story.
Although Skloot is able to get in touch with the Lacks family very easy, they show little interest in speaking to her. Skloot finds out that both reporters and the medical community treated the Lacks family in the past. She knows that she will have to prove herself to them before they agree to talk with her.
At this point, Skloot begins to provide an in-depth explanation of who Henrietta Lacks was and what she did. In 1951, when Lacks was 30, this was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She underwent the standard treatment at Johns Hopkins.
While she was being treated, physicians removed some of the tissue from her tumor. This tissue was cultured and grown in test tubes. Lacks’ family was never told that the tissue sample was taken, even after the researchers made a startling discovery about it.
Lacks’ cells grew at an amazing rate, and they continued to divide continuously. This was a tremendous breakthrough in medical technology, as scientists had been looking for a continuous source of cells for a very long time.
Unfortunately, Henrietta Lacks did not survive her battle with cancer. She passed away when she was only 31, leaving her husband and children behind. All of her children suffered in her absence. Relatives that moved in with them were both physically and sexually abusive to the children.
Because of this, many of Lacks’ children grew up to lead unhappy lives. One of them, Deborah, wound up in an abusive marriage while she was still very young. Another child, Joe, wound up in prison, after he was charged with murdering a man that had threatened his life.
Eventually, Deborah began to take a closer look into the history of her family. She discovered that she had an older sister, Elsie, who had congenital syphilis and epilepsy. She was institutionalized and eventually died at the asylum.
This pushed Deborah to learn more about her family. She accidentally found out about her mother’s cells when a researcher from the National Cancer Institute was visiting her home. The family was subjected to testing after the researcher discovered they were related to lacks.
Skloot’s book puts a face to the cell line that has had such an impact on the worlds. She also looks at unethical scientific experimentation and the ways that people are harmed by this. It is an excellent read for anyone with a passion for people or science.