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College of Public Health Spotlights

CPH Book Club

image of book cover from Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksJoin College of Public Health students, faculty, and staff in a college-wide reading of the New York Times best seller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a 31-year-old African American woman, was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for cervical cancer. As was routine at the time, the cells from Lack's biopsy were used in scientific research without her knowledge.

These cells, code-named HeLa, were the first “immortal” human cells grown in culture and remain the most widely used cell line in biomedical research. In fact, they are referred to in more than 74,000 scientific publications and were vital to developing the polio vaccine, cloning, and more - yet her family knew little about it for years.

This collision of science, ethics, consent, privacy, and race ripples to the present day. In March 2013, scientists sequenced the HeLa genome and published it online. After objections, it was removed. In August 2013, the National Institutes of Health and Lacks' descendants worked out an agreement that gives scientists access to the genetic sequence of the cells, with some restrictions to safeguard the family's privacy. Join the CPH community in reading this extraordinary story of one family's challenges as they live and struggle with the legacy of Henrietta Lack's cells.

Events (print/view events flyer)

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: A Discussion of Science, Ethics, and Community Engagement”
September 25, 4-5 p.m.
Room N120, College of Public Health Building

View video of this event

Panel discussion featuring Briana Woods-Jaeger, UI assistant professor of community and behavioral health; Sandra Daack-Hirsch, UI associate professor of nursing; and Mark Behlke, chief scientific officer at Integrated DNA Technologies. Reception to follow in CPHB atrium. Open to all UI students, faculty, staff, and community members.

Sponsored by the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

"The Henrietta Lacks Story: A Discussion on Gender, Race & Medical Ethics"
October 1, 7-9 p.m.
Meeting Room A, Iowa City Public Library

A discussion of the evolution of federal regulations for human subjects’ research and the involvement of minority and vulnerable subject groups in research prior to and since the regulations were enacted. Scheduled presenters are Andy Bertolatus, executive director of the UI Human Subjects Office and UI associate professor of internal medicine, and Martine Dunnwald, UI research assistant professor of pediatrics - neonatology and UI adjunct assistant professor of genetics and the molecular biology & cellular biology program.

Sponsored by the Iowa City Public Library, the Iowa City Human Rights Commission, and the University of Iowa College of Public Health Collegiate Diversity Committee.

"CPH Visit with the Lacks Family"
October 10, 12:30-2 p.m.
Room N110, College of Public Health Building

Victoria Baptiste, Henrietta Lacks’ great granddaughter, and David Lacks, Jr., grandson of Henrietta Lacks and son of David “Sonny” Lacks, are scheduled to speak at this free event. Open to all UI students, faculty, staff, and community members.

Co-sponsored by the University of Iowa College of Public Health and the Carver College of Medicine Office of Cultural Affairs and Diversity Initiatives.

"An Evening with the Lacks Family: The Story Behind The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks"
Iowa City Book Festival Event
October 10, 7 p.m.
Dean Ballroom, Sheraton Iowa City

Victoria Baptiste, Henrietta Lacks’ great granddaughter, and David Lack,s Jr., grandson of Henrietta Lacks and son of David “Sonny” Lacks, are scheduled to speak at this free event.

Presented by Integrated DNA Technologies with additional support by the Iowa Biotech Association, the University of Iowa College of Public Health, the UI Carver College of Medicine Office of Cultural Affairs and Diversity Initiatives, and the UI Museum of Natural History.

Additional Community Events
See a full listing of other community events compiled by the Iowa City Book Festival.

Resources

  • A reader's guide, videos, photos, and other helpful resources for the book are available on author Rebecca Skloot's web site.
  • Article by Rebecca Skloot on the March 2013 sequencing and publishing of the HeLa genome.
  • Nature article explaining the August 2013 agreement between the NIH and Lacks family.
  • One-page handout on the science of HeLa cells

Borrow a Book

CPH students, faculty, and staff are invited to borrow a copy of the book for a two-week period.

Stop by S173 CPHB to check out a copy, or email cph- communications@uiowa.edu for more information about a book loan.

The CPH Book Club is presented in partnership with the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature and the Iowa City Book Festival.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact the College of Public Health in advance at (319) 384-1500.