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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the now famed story of a family whose mother, a black tobacco farmer from Roanoke Virginia undergoing treatment for cervical cancer at the young age of 30, unwittingly provided the world with what would become HeLa cells, the first immortal human cell line in history. In the following half-century after her death, HeLa cells would, without her family’s knowledge, become key to the eradication of polio, the discovery of telomerase, mapping the human genome, development of the HPV vaccine, and advancement of in vitro fertilization methods.

The book explores the ethics of ownership around human biological material and traverse a historical legacy of discrimination against people of color in healthcare and exploitation of black Americans in scientific research. The Lacks family’s journey to bring their mother’s story to light opens the dialogue for racial dynamics in medicine and science that persist to today and have served as a centerpiece for a larger discussion around achieving health equity for all people.