[Part of the Great Catch-Up series]
In the early 1950s, a doctor working out of Johns Hopkins Hospital cultivated a group of cells outside the human body for the first time. Since then, millions of cells spawned from that initial group have been used in countless medical studies, many of which have had a profound effect on people's lives and health. In The Immortal Lives of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, the author sets out to find the story behind the cells, armed with little more than the information that the nickname for the original strain of cells, "HeLa," came from the name of the woman whose body gave up the cells. Skloot found that the woman was Henrietta Lacks, a 31 year old African American who died from cervical cancer, leaving behind five children and a husband. The doctors at Johns Hopkins had taken the cells without the knowledge or permission of Lacks's family, a common occurence in those days. Skloot's story shifts from finding out who was Henrietta Lacks to her efforts to win the trust of the surviving family members who don't know or understand what happened to their mother while she was dying, and harbor deep suspicions about the motives of the parade of scientists who have come to talk to them over the years.
A great deal has already been written about this book--many stellar reviews, a deal to adapt it into a movie. This is fortunate, because I read it about five months ago and don't remember much. I remember it was good enough that I read it very quickly. I remember that it had a lot of very interesting information about cancer which would be very helpful to know and that I've completely forgotten. I remember wondering what the Lacks family thought of it and how they were portrayed by Skloot.