This book examines the story of Henrietta Lacks, the Black woman behind the world famous HeLa cell line, one of the most important tools in biomedical research. Although scientists have studied virtually every aspect of these cells, their origin story was shrouded in controversy and virtually unknown in the mainstream media. The author skillfully delves into the intersections between science, medicine, ethics, race, and faith to ask important questions about the sometimes personal cost of scientific progress.
I remember hearing about HeLa cells in college and was told they were from a white woman named Helen Lane. It wasn't until the end of my graduate career that I stumbled upon the true origin of these cells and the massive controversy over their continued use. It was truly a landmark moment in my life as a scientist, realizing that during my own research, I often didn't stop to ask some basic, yet important questions about where my materials came from and how they were developed. Once I heard there was a book coming out exploring more details about Henrietta Lack's life, I made sure to read it immediately after it was published so I could become more educated about the darker side of scientific research and ethics.
This book is an excellent launching point for discussion with students interested in science research to do a bit more soul searching about the past and the future of science and ethics. If we don't know where we have been in a particular field, how can we move forward responsibly?