The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

TILOHLBehold, April's book club selection! We know, we know - we're way behind schedule with this one. Between the epic preparations and celebrations involved with DQG's wedding this past weekend (photos to follow) and our primary employer working us harder than JT worked SNL on Saturday (alright - that's not possible), we've had little time to focus on our beloved HCG. But enough with the excuses. On to the book!

Laura had the honor of hosting our April meeting and chose a very "of the moment" book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. A synopsis via Publisher's Weekly/Amazon:

Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year-old black mother of five in Baltimore when she died of cervical cancer in 1951. Without her knowledge, doctors treating her at Johns Hopkins took tissue samples from her cervix for research. They spawned the first viable, indeed miraculously productive, cell line—known as HeLa. These cells have aided in medical discoveries from the polio vaccine to AIDS treatments. Science journalist Rebecca Skloot portrays the devastating impact Henrietta's death and the eventual importance of her cells had on her husband and children. Letting people and events speak for themselves, Skloot tells a rich, resonant tale of modern science, the wonders it can perform and how easily it can exploit society's most vulnerable people.

The Immortal Life was very well received by our book club. It tackled a host of big issues including class, poverty, race and ethics. Many book club members vaguely knew of HeLa cells, and HCG barely remembered learning about them (we credit our Catholic elementary school which also failed to teach us about evolution. But that's because evolution never happened). As we do with all things medical, we turned to our resident book club doctor Torrey (a neurologist) to get her official take on the topic. Since joining our book club, Torrey has patiently fielded countless medical questions and pleas for details about the fascinating details of her job. Like always, Torrey offered thoughtful insight about this book, and she prompted us to consider why the scientist who was intelligent enough to save Henrietta Lacks's cells when he cultured them from her cervix shouldn't be rewarded for his work (oddly enough, that scientist - Dr. George Gey - didn't make much money off of his work with HeLa cells). Props to Laura for choosing a great read!

As a result of Rebecca Skloot's popular book, HeLa cells are having a bit of a media moment. The story of Henrietta Lacks was the basis for a 2010 "Law and Order" episode, and HBO and Oprah are working together to produce an HBO film based on the The Immortal Life. We hope the Lacks family will receive some compensation for the HBO film and, in keeping with her usual M.O., we bet Oprah will see to it they do.

Book club congrats are in order to MR who gave birth to her second child, Gabriel Robert McKinney, on March 31, 2011. Gabriel is the third baby born during book club's tenure, and we look forward to hearing lots of stores about how awesome he is!