The Colloquium is a popular annual Honors Institute activity designed for scholars to discuss a selected piece of literature. At this stimulating event, chaired by an honors professor, participating honors students and professors engage in an open exchange of ideas and scholarly debate. This year’s book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, was discussed on Friday, January 20, 2012. The work is an exciting true story about science, ethics, history, race, socioeconomic status and how each of these collides together in the life and family of Henrietta Lacks.
Henrietta Lacks was born in 1920 and died of cancer in 1951. However, during her cancer treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital, her doctor took a sample of her cancer cells for research purposes and made a discovery that would forever change the world of science. At Henrietta’s time of treatment, the scientific community was struggling to find a way to keep human cells alive in order to use them for research purposes. To Henrietta’s doctor’s surprise, the sample of cancer cells he collected from Henrietta not only stayed alive, but continued to grow and multiply unlike any cell culture seen before. HeLa cells (as they were called to protect Henrietta’s identity) were soon distributed all over the world to researchers to use in testing various vaccines for epidemics such as polio, cancer, and AIDS. The first cell distribution companies were formed with the goal of selling HeLa cells for profit.
As The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks explains that during the same time period that HeLa cells were advancing medical science and changing the world, Henrietta Lacks’ family was left behind to come to grips after her death. The author, Rebecca Skloot, has a writing style that accurately reflects the truth and injustice which occurred in the Lacks family and emotionally connects the reader to the history, science, and politics which surround one of the most significant events in medical science. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a must-read for a scholar of any discipline.
Article Written By: GWSC Staff.