In 1951, a poor black woman by the name of Henrietta Lacks died in Baltimore, but some cells from her cancer-stricken cervix lived on in Petri dishes and medical labs. Since then, scientists have used those cells in research that has led to all sorts of medical treatments.
There is plenty in this book to delight sci-fi readers and non-fiction readers alike who are intrigued by the stranger-than-fiction irony of using deadly cancer cells to cure disease. But the story’s intended hook concerns the ethical and social fallout when a scientific community of mostly rich white men fail to get patient consent to use the cells for research and then fail to give credit to the poor black woman whose unwitting donation made their medical breakthroughs possible.
And then there is the third angle–the one that kept me turning pages–that revolves around the unlikely friendship that develops between author Rebecca Skloot and her subject, Deborah Lacks, the youngest daughter of the woman whose cells became immortal. With Skloot’s intervention, Lacks comes to terms with the weird science she thought she would never understand, while Lacks’ anger and stress over her mother’s ordeal causes Skloot to question everything she thought she understood about medical research.