Almost 60 years ago, doctors took cells from a cancer patient in Baltimore. She died soon afterward, forgotten by everyone but her family. The woman’s cells, however, became immortal and famous - known as HeLa. HeLa cells were the first to grow reliably in a laboratory, and they’re still the most widely used today. They’re responsible for everything from the Polio vaccine to gene mapping. They’ve ridden into space and into oblivion on atomic weapons. In a new book, Rebecca Skloot tells the story of the woman from whom HeLa cells were taken without permission, and what happened to her family after she died. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is part biography and part investigation into racial politics and medical ethics.
In this week’s installment of our ongoing series This I Believe, Bob talks with curator Dan Gediman about the essay of Genevieve B. Earle. She was a social worker and head of the Brooklyn branch of the League of Women Voters. In 1937, she became the first woman to be elected to the New York City Council, where she served as minority leader.
Writer Ralph Ellison is best known for his book Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953 and is considered one of the most important books of the 20th century. When Ellison passed away in 1994 he left behind thousands of pages of unpublished fiction. Editors and Ellison scholars John Callahan and Adam Bradley have compiled and edited Ellison’s work into the new book Three Days Before the Shooting and discuss the book and the man.
For 15 years, Dr. Danielle Ofri has been an attending physician at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital. In her book Medicine in Translation: Journeys with My Patients, Ofri shares the stories of the hundreds of immigrants, documented and undocumented, who have ended up in her care.