Henrietta Lacks was a poor southern tobacco farmer, whom scientists know as HeLa. In 1951, Henrietta developed a strangely aggressive cancer, and doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital took a tissue sample without her knowledge. She died without knowing that her cells would become immortal -- the first to grow and survive indefinitely in culture. The cells became one of the most important tools in medicine, and are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine, uncovering secrets of cancer, viruses, and the effects of the atomic bomb; and helping lead to important advances such as in vitro fertilizations, cloning, and gene mapping. They have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks remained virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave. Her story is multi-dimensional, raising complex legal, medical, racial, and ethical issues – all of which will be examined in Ms. Skloot’s presentation.
Speaker: Rebecca Skloot
Rebecca Skloot holds a B.S. in Biological Sciences and an M.F.A. in Creative Non-Fiction. She has taught in the creative writing programs at the University of Memphis and the University of Pittsburgh, and has also taught science journalism at NYU. Her first book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, took more than a decade to research and instantly became a New York Times best-seller in hardcover, paperback, and electronic editions. It has won numerous awards including the 2010 Amazon.com Best Book of the Year Award. It has continued to enjoy popularity, with more than four years on the New York Times Best-Seller List, and is being translated into more than twenty-five languages and made into an HBO movie produced by Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball. She has also written on a variety of topics for New York Times Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; Discover; and many other publications -- as well as serving as a contributing editor at Popular Science Magazine and as correspondent for NPR and PBS. Ms. Skloot is the founder and president of the Henrietta Lacks Foundation.