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The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks
2009
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Summary
Now a major motion picture from HBO® 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.
Trade Reviews
Booklist Review
*Starred Review* The first immortal human cells, code-named HeLa, have flourished by the trillions in labs all around the world for more than five decades, making possible the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, and many more crucial discoveries. But where did the HeLa cells come from? Science journalist Skloot spent 10 years arduously researching the complex, tragic, and profoundly revealing story of Henrietta Lacks, a 31-year-old African American mother of five who came to Johns Hopkins with cervical cancer in 1951, and from whom tumor samples were taken without her knowledge or that of her family. Henrietta died a cruel death and was all but forgotten, while her miraculous cells live on, growing with mythological intensity. Skloot travels to tiny Clover, Virginia; learns that Henrietta's family tree embraces black and white branches; becomes close to Henrietta's daughter, Deborah; and discovers that although the HeLa cells have improved countless lives, they have also engendered a legacy of pain, a litany of injustices, and a constellation of mysteries. Writing with a novelist's artistry, a biologist's expertise, and the zeal of an investigative reporter, Skloot tells a truly astonishing story of racism and poverty, science and conscience, spirituality and family driven by a galvanizing inquiry into the sanctity of the body and the very nature of the life force.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2009 Booklist
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Table of Contents
A Few Words About This Bookp. ix
Prologue: The Woman in the Photographp. 1
Deborah's Voicep. 9
Part 1Life
1The Exam...1951p. 13
2Clover...1920- 1942p. 18
3Diagnosis and Treatment...1951p. 27
4The Birth of HeLa...1951p. 34
5"Blackness Be Spreadin All Inside"...1951p. 42
6"Lady's on the Phone"...1999p. 49
7The Death and Life of Cell Culture...1951p. 56
8"A Miserable Specimen"...1951p. 63
9Turner Station...1999p. 67
10The Other Side of the Tracks...1999p. 77
11"The Devil of Pain Itself"...1951p. 83
Part 2Death
12The Storm...1951p. 89
13The HeLa Factory...1951-1953p. 93
14Helen Lane...1953-1954p. 105
15"Too Young to Remember"...1951-1965p. 110
16"Spending Eternity in the Same Place"...1999p. 118
17Illegal, Immoral, and Deplorable...1954-1966p. 127
18"Strangest Hybrid"...1960-1966p. 137
19"The Most Critical Time on This Earth Is Now"...1966-1973p. 144
20The HeLa Bomb...1966p. 152
21Night Doctors...2000p. 158
22"The Fame She So Richly Deserves"...1970-1973p. 170
Part 3Immortality
23"It's Alive"...1973-1974p. 179
24"Least They Can Do"...1975p. 191
25"Who Told You You Could Sell My Spleen?"...1976-1988p. 199
26Breach of Privacy...1980-1985p. 207
27The Secret of Immortality...1984-1995p. 212
28After London...1996-1999p. 218
29A Village of Henriettas...2000p. 232
30Zakariyya...2000p. 241
31Hela, Goddess of Death...2000-2002p. 250
32"All That's My Mother"...2001p. 259
33The Hospital for the Negro Insane...2001p. 268
34The Medical Records...2001p. 279
35Soul Cleansing...2001p. 286
36Heavenly Bodies...2001p. 294
37"Nothing to Be Scared About"...2001p. 297
38The Long Road to Clover...2009p. 305
Where They Are Nowp. 311
Afterwordp. 315
Acknowledgmentsp. 329
Notesp. 338
Indexp. 359
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