Henrietta Lacks was an ordinary mother of five living in Baltimore in the 1950s. She grew up in poverty on a tobacco farm of Virginia and she died after an extremely destructive bout of cervical cancer at the age of 30. During the course of her treatment, a sample of her cancerous tissue was taken without her knowledge or consent by scientists. What happened next couldn’t have been predicted by anyone – Henrietta’s cells contained the ability to survive in the lab indefinitely. Known as HeLa cells, their almost magical properties allowed scientists to discover vast new ways to treat all types of illnesses, including polio.
Despite all the triumphs in the labs, the Lacks family continued to live in poverty with no knowledge about Henrietta’s cells. It was only decades later that they were able to fully comprehend just how important their mother was to modern science. You can imagine how upset and proud they were.
Rebecca Skloot spent a decade uncovering and researching this story. Her research really shows. But don’t be afraid of the science jargon– Skloot takes special care to break down even the most advanced science issues and procedures into easy to understand language. You’ll be fascinated by what scientists have been able to accomplish thanks to the HeLa cells. More importantly, you’ll be asking yourself the question – if it’ll help to scientific advancements, who really owns my body?