The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and results of the January PUD Guessing Contest

in Hive Book Club2 months ago (edited)

I don't read many books, and if I do it's mainly chick flicks as they don't need many brain cells, they help me to relax. Occasionally I may come across a random book that arouses my interest. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is one of them.


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Henrietta Lacks was an African American lady from Baltimore, born in 1920, she'd be 100 this year. She's dead, but it's called the immortal life because part of her still lives today. I read this book about 7 or 8 years ago, not long after it was published in 2010. Some of the details are a bit sketchy and I had to do a bit of research from the internet to jog my memory.

In August 1951 Henrietta was 31, she went to the hospital as she had been suffering from severe abdominal pain. After a lot of tests and surgery, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and eventually died two months later. That would have been the end of the story had it not been for Henrietta's cells.


During surgery, some of Henrietta's cells were removed. Normal cells die a few days outside of a human body. That has always been an issue for scientists as they need human cells for research purposes. Henrietta's cells were different. They were strong and refused to die, and kept on reproducing. In other words, they were immortal. When doctors at the hospital lab discovered this, it became quite a breakthrough for the scientific world. Now they had cells which would keep on growing and reproducing, thus allowing them to conduct all sorts of experiment and research. Henrietta's cells were known as HeLa cells. HeLa cells were sent all around the world to different labs for research purposes.

In the years since 1951, HeLa cells have been exposed to endless toxins and infections; they've been zapped by radiation, and tested with countless drugs. And all this – and much, much more – has led to hundreds, if not thousands, of new pieces of knowledge, and helped to shape the way medicine moved in the second half of the 20th century and the first decade of this one.

Source : The Guardian Newspaper, UK


We have to thank Henrietta for all the medical advances achieved in the past 70 years. But have we? And who's given any thought about the HeLa cells, and Henerietta's family? Certainly not those who were in to profit from it.

As time went by, companies started to sell HeLa cells for a profit. All of this, the immortal cells, the research, the medical breakthrough, the commercialization of HeLa cells were unknown to Henrietta's descendants. Let alone them granting anyone permission for her cells to be used for research purposes. Being a poor black family in America in the fifties, they weren't exactly at the top of the social ladder. In fact, none of them even had medical insurance.

Twenty years after Henrietta had died, the HeLa cells had somehow been contaminated. Scientists tracked down the family and asked for cell samples so they could work out the problem. No one told the descendants the true reason for the cell samples. They just thought the doctors were looking into cancer that killed their mother.

On an off chance, Henrietta's daughter in law spoke to a cancer researcher at a dinner party, who mentioned they were working on some cells that came from a person called Henrietta Lacks. That was when the family started to ask questions.


The book is written by Rebecca Skloot and it was her debut book. The entire book took over a decade in research. She spent a lot of time with the family, and instead of extracting information from the family, it was actually the other way round.

I no longer have the book with me, but I remember clearly the book cover. The silhouette of a black woman's face, the book title across it, and the sub title, "She died in 1951. What happened next changed the world." The version I had is different from the red cover version you see around now.

Although not fiction, the story could have easily been one. In fact the book was made into a movie starring Oprah Winfrey in 2017. The book talks about how the author tried to establish trust with the family, breaking the truth to them, and their reaction. Different family members reacted differently to the whole issue. Some didn't want anything to do with it and just wanted the whole issue to go away. Some wanted to get some financial benefit out of it given that so many others were. They were living in poverty all their lives, so it was understandable. Others, particularly Henrietta's youngest daughter, Deborah never knew her mom. She just wanted recognition and justice for Henrietta's contribution to the world.


The book touches on many controversial subjects. The fact that Henrietta was black, and that not many hospitals were willing to treat blacks in the fifties. The fact that cells were removed without her knowledge and consent, and that they were cultured and used for research purposes without her family's knowledge. The fact that companies profited from HeLa cells when Henrietta's family were living in poverty. These are all issues that warrant their own discussions and I don't intend to deep dive into these issues today.

My biggest takeway after reading the book, and what I would love for you to takeaway is acknowledgment. Thanks to the part Henrietta played, we have a polio vaccine, we have IVF technology, we understand more about cancer, and more importantly, we have a Covid vaccine.

You probably have never thought about how medical research is conducted in the past. You probably don't what Hela cells are. You may or may not have heard of Henrietta Lack before.

Now you do.


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And now for the answer to my January Hive PUD guessing contest. This is the box of wooden tumbling tower that I bought recently. There are 54 pieces in the set, and six people guessed the correct answer. Congratulations @crosheille @fionasfavourites @arrliinn @gabrielatravels @zanoz and @brittandjosie, and thanks to everyone else for taking part. 3 Hive will be sent to each of you. See you all next month in my February PUD guessing contest.


EDIT : My brain is not working well nowadays, probably reading too many chick flicks 😊 I thought there were 7 winners, so rounded the 20 Hive prize up to 3 Hive per person = 21 Hive. There are actually 6 winners and I have paid out 18 Hive only. The remaining 2 Hive will be carried over to the February PUD Guessing contest prize pool.


Yay awesome! I had fun playing! Thank you so much ~ 😁

Congrats to everyone!

Congrats @crosheille, thanks for joining in the fun


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Greetings congratulations to all the winners

Better luck next month, hope to see you join in again!


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The fact that you say : mainly chick flicks as they don't need many brain cells, they help me to relax. I haventje same hahaha but sometimes you get surprised indeed.

Thank you for the prize I Appreciate it

I get what you mean ^_^


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Wuaooo what an interesting story, sad, worthy of a tribute to HENRIETTA, thanks for educating us in science and literature. 😉🤗

Also thanks for the contest, I was close to the result, I only missed 6 pieces, congratulations to the winners are some Brains. 🤣

Hope you'll join in again next time Ana Marie


Of course, thank you very much for the invitation and the token. Happy week @livinguktaiwan

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Congratulations to all the winners. : DE Great job friend, it's great what you do.



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Wow!! What an extraordinary. It actually reads like a science fiction - I've never heard of HeLa cells and whilst what I don't know is a pretty large portion of the world, even then, it sounds like a remarkalbe and chance story and even the fact that the in law happened to overhear a conversation - that's remarkable! Bring some race/class into it and there's a great story - thanks for this review, how fascinating!

Thanks @riverflows, I don't think this sort of thing will happen again in modern day society as there are better protocols in place regarding medical ethics, but who knows!!??


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Yaaay! Finally winning something haha. Thanks so much and congratulations to everyone!

You're always winning Gabby!!!

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Firstly, thank you for the Hive! I really appreciate it.

I need to find that book. Sadly, this kind of thing happens more frequently than the public knows. There have been some significant cases around indigenous plants and knowledge in South Africa. Possibly the best known is around the Hoodia plant and it's application for weight loss.

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I just googled Hoodia plant, funny enough how they describe the plant - smelly like rotten flesh and pollinated by flies is enough to put anyone off food!!! 😀



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My interest at first was why I was being tagged in such a post but after reading this, I almost forget the reason I was here.
It's sad how they made money out of Henrietta's cell while her family knew nothing about it and living in poverty.
I have never heard of this neither have I even come across Hela's cell before.
I just learned something today.
I hope the stories have changed a bit now, I mean the whites taking the blacks or Africans' life as important as theirs.
Quite a sad one.

Oops before I forget. Thank you for the Hive and congrats to other winners.
I will stick around for the February version

It's surprising the type of random stuff you learn on Hive.
Look forward to see you in the Feb PUD contest


Indeed. I can't help but keep track of them all. Thanks again. See you on Feb then! :)

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Hi @livinguktaiwan,
Thank you for participating in the #teamuk curated tag. We have upvoted your quality content.
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What a powerful story and to learn that it's non-fiction. I had no idea Oprah portrayed in a movie about it. I just looked up and will add it to the list of movies to watch. It would be interesting to learn about Rebecca Skloot's interaction with the family.

Congrats to all of the winners!

Hooe you enjoy the movie when you get round to it

Wow. That's really an interesting read! I haven't heard of this Hella cells. Will try to search about it. It's just so sad they took advantage of it without the family knowing.

The two reference links I have in my post is a good time place to start, particularly the first one as 2020 was Henrietta's centenary.

Excellent game, I found it very funny, it makes me laugh how far I was from the answer, congratulations to the winners; and those of us who didn't win are waiting for a rematch, hehehehehe (all with joy)