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The Really Popular Book Club: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

6:00pm-7:00pm on Thursday 1 April

Times shown are in GMT (UTC +0) up to the 27th March. For events on or after 28th March times are in BST (UTC +1).

The Really Popular Book Club is hosted by Cambridge University Library and everyone is invited to join our discussion of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. 

Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman, unknowingly enabled a scientific revolution when her cells were taken without her knowledge in 1951 and scientists found they could be grown indefinitely in the laboratory. For decades, researchers knew this mother of five, who had died from cervical cancer aged 31, only as ‘HeLa’. But her cells became crucial to understanding viruses, devising cancer treatments and developing vaccines.

Joining us to discuss the book and how Henrietta Lacks’ cells are still making an impact today are two scientists whose fields of research have been greatly influenced by Henrietta Lacks’ immortal cells:

Professor Andrea Brand, Gurdon Institute, Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, University of Cambridge

Andrea’s research uses cutting-edge genetic and molecular biology to study how stem cells in the brain decide to rest or to proliferate. Developing a better understanding of the molecular basis for this behaviour could lead to potential future therapies for many diseases. For example, we may be able to repair the brain after damage or neurodegenerative diseases.

Professor Nick Hopwood, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge

A historian of biological and medical sciences, Nick researches how, and with what effects, images of embryos and fetuses came to stand for human origins—in pregnancy and, as some have argued, in the evolution of life on Earth. He is also investigating the interplay between journals, newspapers and television in the history of claims to human in vitro fertilization.

David Cain, Public Engagement, University of Cambridge will facilitate the conversation.

As well as hearing from our special guests, we will be opening the floor up to you to share your own observations and remarks. 

Booking/Registration is: REQUIRED

For further details on how to take part in the book group discussion, visit:

Visit our website for more information about current research around HeLa cells, to contribute a creative response to the book, and for information to help you start or enhance your own book club session:

To discover more about the fundamental biology research taking place in Cambridge, follow the Gurdon Institute on Instagram or Twitter: @GurdonInstitute

You can also find out more about Andrea Brand's research through her website: or by following her lab on Twitter: @andreabrandlab

For more on one aspect of our history of biology research, visit the online exhibition Making Visible Embryos -

And follow the HPS Department on Twitter: @CambridgeHPS

Additional Information

Age: Adults
Timing: Live Stream
Cost: free
Theme: Health, Society, Explore
Image copyright: Helene Doerflinger

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