HeLa. Ever heard the term? How about HeLa cells? When a friend asked me that question, the term sounded (very) vaguely familiar, but I had no idea why. Then she couldn't stop talking up this book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Now I have to talk it up to all of you.
HeLa cells have been critical in making some very important medical advancements. You name it, polio, infertility, genetic mapping and cancer research are just a few. That's great, right? So what makes this book more than a scientific snooze? Well, because "HeLa" is short for Henrietta Lacks. A real person. She was poor. She was African-American. And she was 31 when she died of cervical cancer in the 1950's. But before she died, scientists became aware of the uniqueness of her cancer cells. The cells never aged or died (critical to sustaining medical research)! So they took some -- without her knowledge or the knowledge of her family. Those cells are still alive and in use in petri dishes in science labs around the globe. And the rest literally is history.