The women’s studies program will present a unique event for the Marshall and greater Huntington communities called “The Truly Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 27, in the MU Foundation Hall.
The event is based on a book by Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which spent more than three years on the New York Times bestseller list and is read at college campuses across the country, including Marshall.
Lacks was an impoverished tobacco farmer who died of cervical cancer in 1951. A sample of her cells was retained without her knowledge or consent. Medical researchers discovered her cells, known as HeLa, possessed unexplainable immortal properties. Over the past 60 years, HeLa cells have been instrumental in contributing to scientific breakthroughs such as the polio vaccine, in-vitro fertilization, cloning and gene mapping. Her cells have enabled scientists to better understand the effects of the atom bomb, cancer and HIV. In total, HeLa cells have been the subject of more than 74,000 studies, and scientists estimate that more than 50 million metric tons have been cultured to date. They are being utilized in the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.
The book grapples with issues essential to who we are as scholars and educators: the history of race in America, women’s rights over their bodies, health care and poverty, and the ethics of the medical profession, said Dr. Laura Michele Diener, assistant professor of history, and one of the organizers of the event.
“Now admirers of the book can meet two of Lacks’ surviving family members in person and listen to their story,” Diener said. “Marshall is honored to have David Lacks Jr. and Kim Lacks appear as guests to discuss the amazing legacy of their grandmother.”
President Kopp will introduce David Lacks Jr. and Kim Lacks at the event. Two Marshall students, one from the School of Medicine and one from the Honors College, will moderate a question-and-answer session. A book signing will follow the formal event, with copies of the book available for purchase. The event is free and open to the public.
“The Truly Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is sponsored by the Office of Medical Education, Office of Graduate Medical Education and Office of Diversity of the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine as well as the Women’s Center, Intercultural Affairs, the Center for African American Students, the Office of the President, the Honors College, the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Department of Psychology and the Department of History.