Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. Henrietta was a poor southern tobacco farmer who was emitted to the hospital and had her cells taken without her knowledge. Her cells became the most important tools in medicine. HeLa were the first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, and are still alive today. Due to research they say that if you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells helped develop the polio vaccine, uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bombs effects, helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning and gene mapping, and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks remains unknown and her family was clueless of this discovery until years later after she had passed.
Rebecca Skloot went on a mission to uncover the story of Henrietta Lacks and her cells. Rebecca’s purpose of writing this book was to seek help for the descendents of Henrietta Lacks. Rebecca also wanted to educate the public of the significance of Henrietta’s cells and how much they have helped everyone in some way. She shares the story of the Lacks family — past and present, and connects the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of. It took her decades to uncover her story. Rebecca became consumed by her studies of the lives of the Lacks family, especially Henrietta’s daughter Deborah, who was devastated to learn about her mother’s cells, especially fascinated her.