Last week in Microbiology, we mentioned the use of HeLa cells in the context of informed consent. This week, I found out that the son of Henrietta Lacks is appearing to speak at JCCC this month.
From the JCCC website:
What is it like to know that cells from your mother were taken without her consent to create a global strain of cells used the world over?
David “Sonny” Lacks will answer that question and more when he visits Johnson County Community College.
In an Actor’s Studio-like conversation at 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, in Polsky Theater in the Carlsen Center, he’ll discuss his mother, Henrietta Lacks, a poor tobacco farmer and the title character of the non-fiction bookThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
The event is free, and the public is invited to attend.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the 2012-2013 Common Read selection at JCCC. Students from Composition I classes were assigned the book, as were students from the dental hygiene and practical nursing programs.
Sonny Lacks’ appearance is a capstone to months of reading, writing, studying and discussing Henrietta Lacks, the originator of the famous HeLa cells.
HeLa cells are instrumental in medical research, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization and more, yet the woman behind these cells was all but forgotten until Skloot discovered Lacks’ name and history.
Skloot learned that in 1951, Henrietta Lacks unknowingly “donated” cells – both cancerous and cancer-free cells – that had an amazing propensity for growth. The cells were known as the “HeLa” strain, so named after the first two letters of Lacks’ first and last name.
In his appearance, Sonny Lacks will share what it meant to find out – decades after the fact – that his mother’s cells were being used in laboratories around the world, bought and sold by the billions. His visit puts a personal face to big issues such as the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics and the legal battles over “informed consent.”
Lorie Paldino, adjunct instructor, English, and chairperson of the Common Read program, said she thought Sonny Lacks’ visit was the perfect way to personalize those issues.
“It’s a great way of getting the family’s perspective,” she said.
The JCCC Common Read Program is in its fourth year. Common read programs have grown in popularity in communities across the nation. Colleges and universities have used such programs to infuse fresh academic and social experiences, promote critical thinking and reflection, and bolster reading beyond the classroom.
Sonny Lack’s appearance is also part of the college’s Scholar-in-Residence program, designed to bring visiting scholars to students, faculty and the public. It is co-sponsored by the English and Journalism division.