Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
This post is a summary and follow-up to some of the things I learned about Henrietta Lacks through AAMLA's Experience MLA in February. The African American Caucus of the Medical Library Association hosted a 3-week online book discussion of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by journalist Rebecca Skloot.
In small group discussions with facilitators, participants had the opportunity to thoughtfully and eloquently wrestle with some of the ethical, health equity, patient-provider communication and other difficult issues raised by the case. I was grateful for the opportunity: Some books are definitely better discussed!
- Download the complete reader’s guide (pdf) for book discussion groups. It includes: discussion questions, timeline, cast of characters, and more ...
- The month-long focus on Henrietta Lacks culminated in a talk by Chris Belter, Informationist at The NIH. If you have a current MLA Membership, you can watch the recorded Experience MLA 2022 session here. If you are not a current MLA member, the Bright Talk below is similar:
Presented by:Chris Belter, Informationist at the NIH Library, and Holly J. Falk-Krzesinski, PhD, ICSR Advisory Board Member & VP, Elsevier
About this talk:In 1951, a young black woman named Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer. During her treatment, her doctor took a sample of her cells and tried to grow them in culture. The cells, called HeLa cells, were the first human cells that could be grown in a laboratory and are still the most widely studied cells in biomedical research, having led to treatments for diseases such as polio, HIV, and cancer.
- HeLa Cells: A Lasting Contribution to Biomedical Research
- The NIH created this site in response to The Lacks Family asking exactly what wonderful scientific advances came of their mother's HeLa cells. This is the result of Chris Belter's project above ... in plain language.
- After reviewing 110,000 papers published between 1953 and 2016, the website includes a timeline showing SOME of the scientific advances made possible by the immortal HeLa cells, such as:
- laying the groundwork for the polio vaccine
- helping scientists understand the effects of x-rays on human cells
- developing cancer research methods
- Research on infectious diseases such as how do salmonella and TB make people sick
- slowing cancer growth
- understanding HIV infection
- learning how cells age
- understanding how viruses cause certain cancers
- Efforts to protect privacy while advancing science.
Looking for even more information, see this excellent guide from Columbia College: