5 speakers 15 minutes each

Rebecca Skloot

on the story behind HeLa cells

Henrietta Lacks is known to scientists know as HeLa. Rebecca Skloot tells the story of Henrietta, a poor Southern tobacco farmer. Henrietta's cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the effects of the atom bomb; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.