Henrietta Lacks, East Baltimore, USA

This story is so overwhelming and so important on multiple levels, I’m not sure anything I could say about it would do justice.

I was intrigued by it when I read about it on a Canadian website  –  the Globe and Mail http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/review-the-immortal-life-of-henrietta-lacks-by-rebecca-skloot/article1315505/ . I like to get inspiration from lots of different sources and read things I may not have considered before. A book about science I thought? Although I am very interested in science, I have never really read a book about it and expected it to be hard to follow or enjoy.

But boy how wrong was I…..

The story surrounding Henrietta Lacks is quite like anything else I’ve ever read.

It might not be far from the truth to state that she was the most important person who ever lived. A physical part of her body has saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives, and improved the lives of countless others. A sample of cancerous cells was taken from her cervix . Henrietta’s cells would continually divide when cultured. These cells were named ‘HeLa’ using the first two letters of the forename and surname of Henrietta Lacks. The cells soon became famous worldwide but Henrietta herself remained unknown.

This may be a shock in itself but the real shock is that the harvesting and use of her  cells was done without her or her family’s knowledge.

The book is actually two stories, the story of the HeLa cells and the story of the Lacks family told by a journalist who writes the first story and is deeply involved in the second.

HeLa cells have given us our future. They are the most researched and tested human cells in existence. All of us have benefited from the medical advances made using them and the book is recognition of what a great contribution Henrietta Lacks and her family made.

But should we pay a donor and their family for their cells?

–          No I don’t think we should as this happens every day and is vital for ongoing medical research. But that fact that Henrietta’s cells were so groundbreaking for medical science should be recognized and her family compensated for. After all, Henrietta’s contribution to medical science is priceless.

It says on the book that it was a best seller in the US and that it deserves to be so here in the UK. I hope that this story is told to as many people as possible as it deserves to be.

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