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Book Review

The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks

Skloot, Rebecca, 1972-

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a fascinating story of curiosity sparked in an undergraduate biology course that later became a ten-year quest to find out about and tell the real history behind the cell line, HeLa cells, that are involved in over 60 years of biomedical research. HeLa cells were taken from a black woman's cancerous tumor in 1951 and were the first cells ever to "reproduce an entire generation every twenty-four hours, and they never stopped" (p. 4). These cells have been cultured and packaged and sold to research laboratories since 1951, but it wasn't until 1976 that Henrietta Lacks's family found out about them.

Skloot's dogged determination to research the life, death, and offspring of Henrietta Lacks led her to the husband and children of Henrietta, her medical records of being treated for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, data on cancer research, meetings with cancer researchers, and hours and hours of interviewing and gathering information. Skloot writes often using Henrietta's feisty daughter Deborah's voice as she examines what happened to each child of Henrietta and Day, the revelation of Henrietta's cells being alive, the paranoia of being ripped off by someone—researchers, biomedical laboratory suppliers, the government—and trying to get recognition for Henrietta. Whether you have a background in science or not, this non-fiction, New York Times bestseller is incredibly insightful and captivating. I highly recommend it as a "must read"!

By Susan Gardner
Submitted: December 5, 2012