Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Book #2 The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

Having decided over Christmas that I had a shortfall in my general knowledge regarding Science i took a wander round the Popular Science section of Waterstones. This book caught my eye, mainly for its strange and unusual title, which sounded more like it belonged in the fiction section. A sign of our times, I didn't buy it in the store but went home and downloaded it using the Kindle app on my iPad (!!) I wasn't too sure what I was going to be reading but I was intrigued.

The book certainly is not fiction, and tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman from Maryland who was dying of cervical cancer and from whom cells and samples were taken without her knowledge or informed consent which was the norm in the 50's particularly among black patients.

Those cells grew and came to be known in the science world as He-La, and the story of the woman they came from became lost. The contribution of He-La to modern science is enormous, the cells have been used in the polio vaccine, cancer research and were even taken into space. Hence, her immortal life

But Skloot's book is most definitely not the story of the clump of cells referred to as He-La and their contribution to Science, it is the story of their donor Henrietta ever overlooked in the history of those cells, and particularly the impact this scientific use has had upon her husband and children.

What follows is a moving tale of an uneducated family from a poor neighbourhood whose relationship to the He-La phenomenon has been forgotten and overlooked. Despite the millions of pounds He-La research has generated her family cannot afford to see the doctor when they are ill, and the idea that their mothers DNA is still living in laboratories throughout the world frightens them, they don't understand the science, and nobody's ever explained it.

This book is not only a testament to Henrietta Lacks and her family, but the Herculean work done by the author, particularly to gain the trust of the family deserves respect. A unique piece of work marrying modern science and a true human interest story, I believe that everyone will find this book (despite it being non fiction and about Science) to be engaging in the same way as a novel or a biography. It is extremely well written and deserves an 8/10 from me

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