Colorado State University alumna Rebecca Skloot will visit campus for a reading of her best-selling book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” The talk, hosted by the CSU Departments of Biology and English, is from 7-9 p.m. April 5 in Room 100 of the Engineering Building on campus.
Earlier in the day on April 5, Skloot will be part of a panel of CSU experts to discuss, "Talking to the Public about Complex Biomedical Issues" from 2-5 p.m. at the Fort Collins Hilton. Offering "A Journalist’s Tips for Communicating Science to the Public," Skloot will join CSU Vice President for Research William Farland, who will discuss "Risky Business: Communicating Public Health Concerns in Modern Society," and CSU Professor of Biomedical Sciences Richard Bowen, who will discuss "West Nile Virus: Public Concerns and Research Priorities." CSU Vice Provost for Graduate Affairs Peter Dorhout will moderate.
Both the reading and panel discussion are free and open to the public.
The nonfictional “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” showcases the life of a poor Southern tobacco farmer whose bodily cells would become one of the most significant tools in modern medicine. Lacks’ cells, known to scientists as HeLa, were taken without her family’s consent during her battle with aggressive, fatal cancer in 1951. Her tissue sample astonished scientists with its ability to survive and thrive in laboratory settings. To date, more than 50 million metric tons of HeLa cells have been reproduced for the use of researchers around the globe.
HeLa cells played a fundamental role in the creation of the polio vaccine, as well as in uncovering mysteries of cancer and possible side effects from the atom bomb. HeLa cells also led to advancement in the fields of in vitro fertilization, cloning and gene mapping. Lacks’ family learned of her immortal cells more than 20 years after her death but have yet to see any of the profits from the multimillion dollar industry Lacks’ cells established.
Skloot graduated from CSU with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology but found her love for writing in nonfiction courses offered by CSU English Professor John Calderazzo and others.
“Becka is a wonderful example of a nonfiction writer who through her CSU coursework learned a great deal of ‘content’ – the nuts and bolts of cell biology – and then used her story-telling and reporting skills to create a book with wide appeal,” said Calderazzo. “The book is part medical thriller, muckraking journalism, and a meditation on the collision between science and personal rights.”
Since her years in Fort Collins, Skloot’s work as a science writer has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, O the Oprah Magazine, Discover, Columbia Journalism Review and Popular Science. Skloot has written on a variety of topics, including goldfish surgery and food politics.
Skloot serves as the president and founder of the Henrietta Lacks Foundation. The non-profit organization provides financial assistance in the form of scholarships to the descendants of Henrietta Lacks, many of whom cannot afford the health care advances made possible through Lacks’ immortality.
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” debuted at No. 5 on the New York Times best-sellers list and has been named a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick for spring 2010. Skloot was featured in a recent National Public Radio interview with Terry Gross and on a recent cover of Publishers Weekly debuting her book and upcoming grassroots tour.
For more information on “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot, visit http://rebeccaskloot.com.