[REBROADCAST] Henrietta Lacks was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors; she died in obscurity more than 60 years ago, buried in an unmarked grave. But her cells, taken by scientists without her knowledge, became one of the most important tools in medicine, the first “immortal” human cells grown in cultures. Called “HeLa” cells, they were involved in scientific breakthroughs ranging from a polio vaccine to in vitro fertilization, cancer to cloning. REBECCA SKLOOT’s 2010 book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, tells this remarkable story, as well as what happened when Lacks’ descendants discovered Henrietta’s pivotal role in modern science, and the many bioethical issues it raises.
Update: Earlier this month, scientists published the sequencing of Henrietta Lacks’ cells, online, without her family’s consent, and has since withdrawn the data. Here’s Skloot’s recent NYT op ed about this news: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/24/opinion/sunday/the-immortal-life-of-henrietta-lacks-the-sequel.html?pagewanted=all