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    November 29, 2010

    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Chosen as New York Times Notable Book

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    The Immortal Life has been listed as a New York Times Notable Book of 2010, and also as one of the top 10 books of 2010 by Dwight Garner of the New York Times, who said:

    This thorny and provocative first book — it’s about cancer, racism, scientific ethics and crippling poverty — floods over you like a narrative dam break. It’s one of the most graceful and moving nonfiction books I’ve read in a very long time. More than 10 years in the making, it feels like a book Rebecca Skloot was born to write.


    November 23, 2010

    NPR calls The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks One of the Best Conversation Starters of 2010

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    From National Public Radio today:  “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a remarkable feat of investigative journalism and a moving work of narrative nonfiction that reads with the vividness and urgency of fiction. It also raises sometimes uncomfortable questions with no clear-cut answers about whether people should be remunerated for their physical, genetic contributions to research and about the role of profit in science.”

    NPR has named the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as one of the Best Conversation Starters of 2010.  Full story online here.


    November 18, 2010

    The Oprah Magazine and Discover Name The Immortal Life as a Best Book of 2010

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    O, The Oprah Magazine has just named The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as one of the Best Books of 2010, and Discover Magazine has named it as one of their Must Reads of 2010 — Discover also named Rebecca Skloot’s appearance on the Colbert Report discussing The Immortal Life as one of “Five Geektastic Moments From a Year in Television.”


    November 10, 2010

    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Wins 2010 Wellcome Trust Book Prize

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    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has just been announced as the winner of this year’s Wellcome Trust Book Prize:

    Ten years in the making, ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ (Pan Macmillan) – a beautiful but harrowing work of non-fiction by Rebecca Skloot – has won the second Wellcome Trust Book Prize. Taking readers on a journey of scientific discovery, the book tells the story of a poor Southern tobacco farmer whose cancer cells, taken without her knowledge, became one of the most important tools in medicine.

    The prize honors one book each year “on the theme of health and medicine. It brings together the worlds of medicine and literature, appealing to literature lovers and science enthusiasts.”

    Read the full announcement of the award, and why the jury chose The Immortal Life online here.


    November 4, 2010

    Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Chosen as Best Book of 2010 by Amazon.com

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    Very exciting news, just in:  Amazon has named The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as the Best Book of 2010.  From their announcement:

    Our Best of the Year lists are always the culmination of a year of eager book scouting, and then a few contentious weeks of nominating, discussing, rehashing, rereading, and sorting, and this year is no different, although, like last year, our #1 pick made itself pretty plain, and left us extra time to debate the other 99 spots on the Top 100. As soon as we read Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, we thought it was pretty special. In just 300 pages (and in her first book), Skloot makes an incredibly difficult task seem simple: weaving together a story of science and history with a very personal account of a family who has not always wanted their story told. The book is full of surprise, incident, and character (not the least of which is Skloot herself, although her presence never overwhelms the story), the way good stories are, but it’s also a story of ideas, which Skloot treats as subtly and even-handedly as she does the people she writes about. It’s the rare sort of book that is ambitious and innovative, but that you could also give to any curious reader, and that’s just the sort of book we love to put at the top of our list.

    Please have a look at their full list of the top books of the year, and the many wonderful titles on it.  I’m honored that The Immortal Life is among them.


    October 31, 2010

    US Government Says Genes Should Not Be Eligible For Patents

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    In a historic reversal of a longstanding and controversial policy, the U.S. Government has just filed a legal brief saying that genes should not be eligible for patents, because they are products of nature.  This brief was filed in the case of ACLU vs. Myriad Genetics, in which the ACLU and hundreds of scientists and patients argue that Myriad’s patent on the breast cancer gene has inhibited the progress of science, and treatment for breast cancer.

    This is part of a much larger debate over who should profit off of research on human biological materials, and what regulations (if any) should be put in place to require that scientists disclose potential profits and get informed consent from the patients these materials come from. As I said in the afterward of my book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, most Americans have blood and tissues on file somewhere being used in research, but most don’t realize it, because the majority of research on human tissues doesn’t require informed consent:

    “When you go to the doctor for a routine blood test or to have a mole removed, when you have an appendectomy, tonsillectomy, or any other kind of ectomy, the stuff you leave behind doesn’t always get thrown out. Doctors, hospitals, and laboratories keep it. Often indefinitely … Scientists use these samples to develop everything from flu vaccines to penis-enlargement products. They put cells in culture dishes and expose them to radiation, drugs, cosmetics, viruses, household chemicals, and biological weapons, and then study their responses.  Without those tissues, we would have no tests for diseases like hepatitis and HIV; no vaccines for rabies, smallpox, measles; none of the promising new drugs for leukemia, breast cancer, colon cancer. And developers of the products that rely on human biological materials would be out billions of dollars.

    You can read more about that, and the history of the debate surrounding it, in this NY Times Magazine article.

    The story of Henrietta Lacks illustrates the complexities of this debate better than any:  Her cells, known as HeLa, were the first human cells grown in culture, the first ever commercialized, and all without her consent. Samples were later taken from her children without consent to help further HeLa research, which led to some of the most important medical advances of our time, yet Henrietta’s family can’t afford health insurance. They’re hoping some of these recent developments might help change that.

    And things do seem to be changing. In my book’s afterward, I wrote about four pending court cases related to these issues — just since the book’s publication in February, three of those cases have settled or been ruled on, all in similarly historic directions. For the first time in the decades long debate over research on human biological materials, cases are ending up in favor of requiring consent, and restricting commercialization of biological materials. There is great concern from some groups of scientists that this may inhibit their ability to do important research, which is where things stand today: It’s clear that the public and the courts believe new guidelines and regulations are necessary, but any new oversight must not slow the progress of science.


    October 31, 2010

    Evolutionary Biologist Leigh Van Valen Has Died

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    Leigh Van Valen, the fascinating evolutionary biologist who proposed that HeLa cells had evolved into their own species and were no longer human, has died. For those who have a copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, you can read more about his HeLa theory on p. 215-216 of the book.  You can also read the original news reports about Van Valen’s HeLa theory online here, and more about his fascinating career, and theories, in this NY Times obituary.  Thanks to Carl Zimmer for that obituary link.


    October 7, 2010

    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Named as Finalist for Two Book Awards

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    This just in:  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has been named as a finalist for the 2010 Wellcome Trust Book Prize, which celebrates medicine in literature, as well as for the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Science’s 2010 award for Excellence in Science Books, which honors science writing that’s accessible to all age groups.  The Immortal Life is a finalist in the Young Adult category, and is being taught widely in high schools.


    August 11, 2010

    First Henrietta Lacks Foundation Grants Awarded

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    Today, the Henrietta Lacks Foundation awarded its first ever grants thanks to proceeds from The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, and donations from readers. The first awards cover full tuition and books for five descendants of Henrietta Lacks starting fall semester 2010, as well as health care and emergency needs grants for two members of her immediate family. More information about the inaugural Henrietta Lacks Foundation grants coming soon. For more information on the foundation, or to make a donation, click here.


    August 6, 2010

    Historic Marker to be Placed on Henrietta Lacks’s Home

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    Tomorrow, the town of Turner Station just outside of Baltimore will place a historic marker at 713 New Pittsburgh Ave, the home where Henrietta Lacks lived the final years of her life. The ceremony is open to the public. Click here for more information.


    Named by more than 60 critics as one of the best books of 2010

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    The Henrietta Lacks Foundation

    The Henrietta Lacks Foundation strives to provide financial assistance to needy individuals who have made important contributions to scientific research without their knowledge or consent.