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Viccie

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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"Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. Born a poor black tobacco farmer, her cancer cells -- taken without her knowledge -- became a multimillion-dollar industry and one of the most important tools in medicine. Yet Henrietta's family did not learn of her 'immortality' until more than twenty years after her death, with devastating consequences . . . "

 

This is an absolutely fascinating book which starts with Rebecca Skloot's own fascination about who HeLa was which started in the classroom, and then follows the scientific developments that came as a result of the astonishing properties of the cells taken from Henrietta and Rebecca's efforts to get to know Henrietta's poor and very troubled family and the effects that the news that part of their mother/wife/cousin was still alive had on all of them.

 

This is part popular science (anyone who is looking for heavy duty scientific information should go elsewhere, part history- some of the details of what the medical establishment got up to in the 50's and 60's are horrifying, part memoire, part biography and the combination of all the elements makes for one of the most unusual and interesting books I've read in a long time;

 

Highly recommended.

Edited by Viccie

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I read this book a few years back and like you, Viccie, found it a very unusual read. I read it after it was one of the books included in a Channel 4 book programme along with seven other books. I probably would never have heard of the book without the TV programme and if I had I doubt that I would have decided to read it unless it had been recommended by another reader. Although I do not remember the finer details of the book, it being a while since I actually read it, I do remember the overall story and certainly found it to be a worthwhile read.

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I read this with a local RG a few years ago.  It created quite a bit of discussion about how the cells were taken without any regard for the person and the fact that it was a black woman in America at that time in history.  It was a story told well I thought, giving you some idea of the science involved (though as you say Viccie not everything) and at the same time an understanding of what it meant to both the family and to the world in general over time.  A very powerful story beautifully told I thought.

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Fascinated when I read this thread, since I had never heard of her or her story.

In the UK October is Black History Month and at work we have been celebrating this with informative and fun activities. A colleague of mine is heavily involved with the planning and I brought Henrietta's story to his attention. He too was amazed that he had never heard of her and will be bringing her story to the website promoting Black history month.

Thanks BGO for bringing this story to light :)

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Before the publishing of this bookb I doubt that very few people knew of this women's story. By writing this book the author has managed to point out to the world the misjustices of the case without the need for court cases or the newspapers. In many ways it is probably a book that everyone should read.

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I agree, cp. It's a fascinating story that probably mostly people in the medical research field even knew about.

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When I was in college I a friend of mine mentioned something about that almost all cell studies exist now were taken from a woman with cancer who died 50 or so years ago.  

 

About 5 years ago I was someone sent me this book and I read it within a few days.  It was so good it earned a permanent spot in my bookcase.  

 

This story presents many questions people don't often think about and the scary world of whether or not people own their own cells and DNA once it is taken from their person.  Such as blood donations and at the doctor's office when you sign you are giving them consent to do what they wish with your samples.  They only have to notify the donor if there is an abnormality.  Almost the only time one would get to pick what samples are used for is if one is a tissue donor.  When that person passes away a consent is read and the family is allowed to pick what tissue will be donated and whether tissue will be used abroad, for research etc.

 

When John Moore's spleen was removed in 1976 the doctors discovered abnormal cells in his spleen and tried to profit off a cell line they developed from his cells without his knowledge. http://articles.latimes.com/2001/oct/13/local/me-56770 I don't remember if he was mentioned in the book, but I remember learning about him in Biology class.  I found this horrifying yet fascinating, this book and the story of the HeLa cells is the same thing but on a much larger scale.

 

On that same vein of thought a lot of criminals are caught by DNA they leave behind or dispose of in the trash, like a cigarette butt or on DNA left on a fast food cup etc.  So changing laws about how cells or DNA specifically are handled once it is disposed of would be tricky.  There is no one size fits all solution that both allows cops to do their jobs and patients to have rights to their genetic information.

 

I'd honestly recommend that everyone read this book.  The more people that are aware of this current grey area in law the better.  

Edited by Biochemisty-n-Classics

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