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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.
|The summer of 1899 is hot in Calpurnias sleepy Texas town, and there arent a lot of good ways to stay cool. Her mother has a new wind machine, but instead, Callies contemplating cutting off her hair, one sneaky inch at a time. Shes also spending a lot of time at the river with her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist. But just when Callie and her grandfather are about to make an amazing discovery, the reality of Callies situation catches up with her. Shes a girl at the turn of the century, expected to cook and clean and sew. What a waste of time! Will Callie ever find a way to take control of her own destiny?|
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