Book Review - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this book while trying to find a non-fiction selection for book club but wasn't too sure it would provide enough discussion material. I was wrong. There are a lot of issues brought up in this book from Jim Crow laws, patient privacy, tissue and genetic testing, scientific research and racism.

Lacks was a relatively poor, undereducated Black woman who was treated at John Hopkins for a cervical tumor. Tissue samples were taken from her before (and after) she died and her live cancerous cells were found to be able to persist and grow in a lab setting. Her cells (called HeLa) became the basis for an enormous amount of research and directly helped to test Salk's polio vaccine. It's an amazing scientific story.

What's also amazing was Skloot's efforts to research Lack and her family. She wanted to include them to make it a complete story. They didn't even know about Lack's cells prolific use and Skloot had to not only gain their trust but also educate them on what it all actually meant. That was a big challenge considering their lack of education and exposure to the world.

Fascinating story.

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