"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" is a non-fiction account of how a poor dying black woman's cells, unique in their ability to reproduce prolifically, have become the basis for many breakthroughs in medical research. The book traces the story of Lacks' family, her personal struggle with cancer, and the repercussions in the scientific community as the value of her cells becomes known.
Henrietta Lacks entered a hospital with cervical cancer, and after taking a biopsy without her consent, scientists realized the research value of her cells. She lived for eight more months, receiving crippling radiation treatment and caring for her five children. After her death in 1951, her cells, nicknamed HeLa, began to be used in medical research around the world. Scientists have reproduced millions of her cells, and they have even been transported to the International Space Station. Although pharmaceutical companies made billions from the results of research based on Henrietta's cells, her family continued to live in poverty, harassed by journalists, who invaded their privacy relentlessly. The book traces the themes of poverty, race, science and ethics in telling the story of Henrietta Lacks and her enduring contribution to medical knowledge.
"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" became a bestseller and a critical success. It appeared on many best-book-of-the-year lists for 2010 and won a number of awards. Oprah Winfrey announced plans to make a film version of the book in May of 2010.