Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ruth Faden at the Capstone Event: "Henrietta Lacks: Ethics at the Intersection of Health Care and Biomedical Science"

A number of panelists and speakers will be present at the Go Big Read Capstone Event on April 15-16 at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.

On April 15 at 3 pm, keynote speaker Ruth Faden will speak on "Henrietta Lacks: Ethics at the Intersection of Health Care and Biomedical Science."

Faden is the executive director at Johns Hopkins University Berman Institute of Bioethics, as well as a Senior Research Scholar at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. Her research, credentials, and experiences speak to her expertise on ethics in the healthcare and biomedical science fields.

In "Informed Consent and Clinical Research," a 1996 article for the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, Faden states that, "Despite decades of discussion about the theory of informed consent and the moral commitments that underlie it, despite the best reformist efforts on the part of biomedical ethics to put respect for the autonomy of the patient at the core of the medical encounter, the dynamics of illness and the dynamics of the clinic remain, in important respects, unchanged." Readers of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks may wonder not only what this means for HeLa, but what it means for patients today.

We look forward to welcoming Faden to campus, and further hearing about her research and experience with these topics, which relate so strongly our community discussion of the ethics of HeLa.

Click here to RSVP for either or both days of the capstone event.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Go Big Read Capstone Event: April 15-16

The Go Big Read Capstone event, "Who Owns My Body and Where is it Now?" will be held April 15-16 at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.

If you read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, or are interested in the book's questions of race, the research of human subjects and the business of commercializing human-derived biomaterials, check out the event schedule at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation website.

This two-day event will include speakers, panelist, films and more surrounding bioethics and the biotechnology field- a great way to cap off our campus-wide discussion of Henrietta Lacks and give recognition to the full story behind HeLa cells. As the event approaches, check back here for more information about the speakers and panelists and their areas of expertise.

The agenda includes speakers from all across the country, including several from right here at UW Madison.

Click here to RSVP for either or both days of the capstone event. All capstone events are free and open to the public.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Colloquium: Bruno Strasser on “Collecting Experiments: The New Production of Biomedical Knowledge”

As we near the Go Big Read capstone event, the UW community is still discussing topics relevent to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. On March 29th, join the History of Science Department for a talk by Bruno Strasser, an Assistant Professor of History of Science & Medicine at Yale University.

Strasser's research focuses on the biomedical sciences of the 20th century, and he has published many works on related topics, including his 2006 book, La fabrique d'une nouvelle science, La biologie moléculaire à l'âge atomique, 1945-1964.

The event, part of the Appropriations: Collecting for Science” Colloquium Series talks, will be held at 4:00 pm on March 29th in Memorial Library, Room 984 (Special Collections). The series aims to "examine diverse perspectives on the nature and implications of appropriations in science." For more informaton on the series and upcoming events, visit the History of Science Department's website.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Henry Louis Gates on "African American Lives"

A full house turned out for Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr's talk last night in Mills Concert Hall. Gates, Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University, is director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research.


Gates discussed his interest in genealogy, which led to his PBS and BBC documentaries, African American Lives and Faces of America. In these works, he used mitochondrial DNA to trace the genealogy of prominent African Americans, including Oprah and Morgan Freeman, among others, back to their earliest African ancestry.


Gates, who is working on his next PBS special, plans to use his research to engage students in studying the sciences, relating the study of genealogy to what they are learning in social studies classes. Many students lose interest in studying science in the 8th grade, and Gates maintains that the best way to keep their interest is to encourage the study of their own family histories.

For those who read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Gates talk easily related to the questions of genealogy, heritage, and DNA, which the Lacks family grappled with after Henrietta's death.

For more information about Gates and his research, visit his Harvard University biography page, and for information about African American Lives, click here for a PBS press release.

Monday, March 21, 2011

An Evening with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Go Big Read looks forward to welcoming Henry Louis Gates, Jr to Mills Hall, Mosse Humanities Building, on March 24th at 7:30 pm. Gates' talk will contribute to a community-wide discussion of race and ethics, topics which relate strongly to this year's Go Big Read Selection, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.

Gates, Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University, is the director of Harvard’s W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African-American Research, and is a literary critic, cultural historian, writer, editor, and television producer.

In recent years, Gates wrote and produced a PBS documentary titled "African American Lives," the first documentary to discuss African American history using genealogy and genetic science, as well as a number of other related documentaries. He is also the author of numerous works of literary criticism, and editor of many anthologies, including The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (W. W. Norton, 1996). A more complete list of his impressive achievements, publications, awards, and honors can be found at his Harvard University faculty bio.

Gates' talk is sponsored by the Center for the Humanities, the Institute for Research in the Humanities, the Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate, the Office of the Provost, and the General Library System.

This event is free and open to the public, no tickets required. For more information, click here for the UW Center for the Humanities website.

Last Two Weeks of Informing Consent Exhibit

As you plan your next two weeks on the west side of campus, please keep in mind that the popular "Informing Consent: Unwitting Subjects in Medicine’s Pursuit of Beneficial Knowledge," closes on March 31st. Numerous classes, community members, students, faculty and staff have learned from seeing many of the themes in Skloot's book "brought to life," through photographs, newspaper clippings, magazines and medical journals.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Literary Science Writing

One of the most gripping aspects of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" is how well Skloot, a science writer, covers both the scientific and human aspects surrounding Henrietta Lacks and HeLa cells. At the same time, the book is accessible to a wide range of readers. Skloot is a science writer, and her book can be classified as "Literary Science Writing."

Last year, Rebecca Skloot spoke at Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference on a panel called “Black Holes No More: The Importance of Science Storytelling Across All Genres." She is quoted by one science blogger as saying, "People need stories in order to read the science." This year, the same conference included a panel called "Literary Science Writing: Don't Be Scared," maintaining that "the best science writing isn’t as much about science as it is about people" (Lofty Ambitions Blog).

In an article for the Guardian, writer Ian McEwan discusses the concept of science writing telling the stories of the past, rather than simply focusing on only the newest discoveries. He states that, " if we understand science merely as a band of light moving through time, advancing on the darkness, and leaving ignorant darkness behind it, always at its best only in the incandescent present, we turn our backs on an epic tale of ingenuity propelled by curiosity." McEwan also reflects on science writers who, can write " without condescension to the layman."

Is this part of the appeal of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks"? Not only does Skloot dig into the past to tell the full story of the HeLa cells, she makes the story and its science accessible to the layman.

Click here to read more of McEwan's 2006 article, and don't forget to visit Ebling Library for the Informing Consent exhibit to learn more about the full story of HeLa.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Video of HeLa Cells Multiplying

"They kept growing like nothing anyone had seen, doubling their numbers every twenty-four hours, stacking hundreds on top of hundreds, accumulating by the millions...They grew twenty times faster than Henrietta's normal cells...As long as they had food and warmth, Henrietta's cells seemed unstoppable" (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, 40-41).

After this pivotal scene in Skloots' The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, George Gey goes on to tell his colleagues that he may have grown the first immortal cells.

If you haven't seen HeLa cells in action yet, this YouTube video captures an important aspect of Rebecca Skloot's book.

Henrietta Lacks Study Tools

Whether you're a teacher, a discussion leader, or an interested reader, it's helpful to have some study tools when reading a multidisciplinary book like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

If you'd like to get involved in some HeLa discussion, check out Rebecca Skloot's website, where readers are leaving comments and sharing their stories in the HeLa Forum.

There's a wide variety of study tools online as well. Bluford Library at North Carolina State University has put together a Henrietta Lacks LibGuide with useful information about the book. Check it out for author information, YouTube videos, articles, discussion questions and more.

Click here to see the LibGuide!


Sarah Leeman
Graduate Student

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New Reviews of Henrietta Lacks

While Rebecca Skloot travels around the country on her book tour, readers are still tweeting, blogging, and writing reviews of her book. There are over a hundred reader reviews on LibraryThing.com alone!

If you're interested in hearing what people are saying a year after the book's release, check out these new reviews:


What's your review of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? Leave a comment and let us know!

Sarah Leeman
Graduate Student