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Author to Talk About 'Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks'

How a poor black woman made a major but involuntary contribution to science

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March 4, 2010 | by Wendy Leopold
Rebecca Skloot, author of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks."

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Henrietta Lacks was a little known cancer patient in the "colored" ward of a Baltimore hospital in the 1950s. Her cells -- taken without her knowledge -- today live on in science labs across the country. Rebecca Skloot, author of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," will talk about Lacks, racism and medical ethics and take part in panel discussions Wednesday, March 10, on Northwestern University's Evanston and Chicago campuses.

Both lecture/panel events are free and open to the public. The Evanston talk and panel discussion will take place from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in Room 107 of Swift Hall, 2029 Sheridan Rd., Evanston. The Chicago talk and panel discussion will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in Room 104 (Lincoln Hall) in Levy Mayer Hall, 357 E. Chicago Ave., on the University's Chicago campus.

Skloot has been hailed an "overnight literary success" since the publication of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" in January. The nonfiction book - which took Skloot more than 10 years to complete -- tells the story of a descendant of slaves whose cells forever changed medical research and led to a billion-dollar industry.

Henrietta Lacks' family has seen none of the profits from what today are known to scientists as HeLa cells.

After her remarks, Skloot will take part in panels titled "Who Owns Your Body?" led by Northwestern faculty members Celeste Watkins-Hayes in Evanston and Dorothy Roberts in Chicago. Watkins-Hayes is associate professor of sociology and African American studies in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Roberts is Kirkland and Ellis Professor of Law in the School of Law. Both are faculty fellows at Northwestern's Institute for Policy Research.

The principal sponsor of the events is Northwestern's Center for Bioethics, Science and Society. Co-sponsors are the African American studies department, Brady Program in Ethics and Civic Life, Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Studies in Human Culture Program and Medical Humanities and Bioethics Program in the Feinberg School of Medicine.

Tickets will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. For further information, e-mail bioethics@northwestern.edu or visit http://www.feinberg.northwestern.edu/cbss/news-events/.