Rebecca Skloot, author of the award-winning book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, presents a lecture and discussion about her book and her path to writing it.
She will be introduced by:
Paula A. Johnson, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the executive director of the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender BIology, who will also moderate a panel discussion following the lecture with:
Evelynn Hammonds, Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University and
I. Glenn Cohen, professor of law, and faculty director, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology & Bioethics at Harvard Law School
In The Immortal Life, Rebecca Skloot tells the story of a young black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951 and left behind an inexplicably immortal line of cells known as HeLa. Henrietta Lacks’s cells—harvested without her knowledge or consent—contributed to scientific advancements as varied as the polio vaccine, treatments for cancers and viruses, in-vitro fertilization, and the impact of space travel on human cells. The story is also about her children, who were later used in research without their consent and who have never benefited from the commercialization of HeLa cells, although the cells have helped biotech companies make millions of dollars. Part detective story, part scientific odyssey, and part family saga, The Immortal Life’s multilayered approach raises fascinating questions about race, class, and bioethics in America.
Skloot holds a BS in biological sciences and an MFA in creative nonfiction, degrees that she helped pay for by working in emergency rooms, neurology labs, veterinary medicine, animal morgues, and martini bars. She specializes in narrative science writing and has explored a wide range of topics, including goldfish surgery, tissue ownership rights, race and medicine, food politics, and packs of wild dogs in Manhattan. She has worked as a correspondent for WNYC’s Radiolab and PBS’s NovaScienceNOW. Her next book will be about humans, animals, science, and ethics. She is a visiting scholar at the Radcliffe Institute in September 2015 and will meet with students, faculty, and researchers to broaden the impact of the work she has done and make progress on her next projects.
Paula A. Johnson ’80, MD ’84, MPH ’85, who will introduce Skloot and moderate the panel about the intersection of biomedical science, research ethics, poverty, and race, is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the executive director of the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology, and the chief of the Division of Women’s Health at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Evelynn Hammonds, Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science, and professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University
I. Glenn Cohen RI ‘13, professor of law, and faculty director, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology & Bioethics at Harvard Law School