The University of Missouri welcomed Rebecca Skloot on Monday night at Jesse Auditorium as part of the university’s Decoding Science: Life Sciences and Society Symposium. Skloot spoke about her book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and the lessons learned from doing research and writing the book.
Skloot said she was inspired to research more on Henrietta Lacks’ story after being introduced to her at the age of 16 during class one day. Lacks’ cells were taken without her knowledge in 1951 and were sold all around the world to assist in the advancement of the medical field. Lacks is known for having the first immoral cells, meaning they continue to live on and multiply, after her death in 1951. Called HeLa cells, they have been key in helping developing polio and HPV vaccines, cancer treatment and etc.
“This story about Henrietta Lacks and her family is about many things. It’s about race, medicine, bioethics, access to health care but at it’s core, one of the very important things it’s about is communication,” Skloot said.
Skloot explained just how intricate the research process was in order to make the book a success.
She said she talked to friends and family of Henrietta as well as looked at archived photos and other data in order to put every little piece together in the story. After 10 years of research, Skloot said she was finally able to publish Henrietta’s story.
“Science is all about looking for little pieces you didn’t expect,” Skloot said.
Those in attendance said they took away a few lessons after listening to Skloot’s presentation.
“Just the conversation about getting science to the public and communicating it while so people in the normal public can understand was just very compelling,” said Amber Wingler, a worker at MU’s research reactor.
Traci Wilson-Kleekamp also took away some valuable lessons from Skloot’s presentation.
“She confirmed everything that I got from her book. She was somebody who could walk in a lot of worlds, she was comfortable with her subject matter, and you can’t overstate the idea of being curious and following it,” Wilson-Kleekamp said.