The famous Hela cells

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksRebecca Skloot showed early hints of her future vocation when confronted by a scientific mystery with an intriguing backstory at a community college in Portland, Ore. The then-16-year-old was taking a basic biology class and was told about the so-called HeLa cells, which had been alive since 1951 and been mysteriously growing in laboratories around the world. They've been used to uncover secrets of cancer, help develop a polio vaccine and even blasted off into space.

The future science writer was intrigued. Her science side was interested in the medical mystery behind why the cells continued to live for 60 years after the host died of cancer. Her writer side was interested in Henrietta Lacks, the poor southern tobacco farmer who had the cells taken from her without her permission in 1951. Her story was sad, topical and infuriating. Henrietta's tissues have generated billions, but she was buried in an unmarked grave in the tiny town of Clover, Va. Her descendants dants have often been unable to get access to health care in the U.S. Read more

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