The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Oct 25, 2011, 17:19 ET from University of the District of Columbia

University hosts a celebrity panel to discuss the woman whose cell line changed medical history

WASHINGTON, Oct. 25, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The University of the District of Columbia College of Arts and Sciences is launching its first-ever "Big Read" with a panel discussion of Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the true story of a woman whose cell line (identified for years only as "He-La") radically transformed medical research, ethics and patient rights. The event will take place on Friday, October 28 from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. in the Auditorium on the University's main campus (4200 Connecticut Ave., NW, WDC).


The panelists, who will explore the many facets of her story—from the family's experience to the latest scientific research—include:

David "Sonny" Lacks. The only living child of Henrietta Lacks and the living embodiment of the human, personal, legal, and ethical stories behind the He-La cells.    His stories celebrate her legacy and life and offer a sincere first-person narrative.

Dr. Richard Schlegel. Chairman and Professor of the Department of Pathology at Georgetown University.  Dr. Schlegel is co-inventor of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine. His laboratory is currently developing second- and third-generation vaccines for use in HPV prevention efforts in developing countries where almost all deaths from cervical cancer occur. His lab is also exploring new techniques to generate cell lines from human tissue.

Dr. Vence Bonham. Branch Chief of the Education and Community Involvement Branch and Associate Investigator of the Social and Behavioral Research Branch at the Human Genome Research Institute (HGRI).  Dr. Bonham's work is at the intersection of public policy, health care and genetics, focusing on how genomic discoveries influence social identity, how genomics might influence the use of the constructs of race and ethnicity in biomedical research and the role of genetics and genomics in understanding racial and ethnic health disparities.

Dr. Shawneequa Callier. Assistant Professor in the Department of Clinical Research and Leadership at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (GW).  Her career has been dedicated to examining the bioethical and legal issues raised by advancements made in genetic research.  Her published manuscripts target concerns related to genetic discrimination and patients' expectations about the use of their genetic samples.

The discussion will be moderated by Dr. Deepak Kumar, chair of the UDC Biology department.

The "Big Read," is a new initiative of the College of Arts and Sciences. The book was chosen because it exemplifies the pillars of the university's new GenEd program: access, ethics, diversity and literacy.  

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a riveting story that weaves multiple themes common in the lives of financially challenged families, living in high poverty communities," said  Dr. Heidi Oliver-O'Gilvie, Assistant Professor of Education.  "Ms. Lacks' story can be unpacked in myriad ways, uncovering the need for education, financial literacy, health literacy and access to seemingly common resources.  The voice that this story gives to the often silenced or voice-less offers numerous opportunities for discovery and learning in classrooms worldwide."  

"The book's themes couldn't be more relevant and Ms. Skloot's mastery of the creative non-fiction genre makes the confrontations endurable," said Assistant Dean April Massey.

A reception and book signing will follow the discussion. Copies of the book will be on sale during the event.  This event is free and open to the public.

As the only urban land-grant institution in the United States, the University of the District of Columbia ( supports a broad mission of education, research and community service across all member colleges and schools, which include the Community College, College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences, College Arts and Sciences, School of Business and Public Administration, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and David A. Clarke School of Law.

The University of the District of Columbia is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action institution. Minorities, women, veterans and persons with disabilities are encouraged to apply. For a full version of the University's EO Policy Statement, please visit:

The University of the District of Columbia is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education - 3624 Market Street - Philadelphia, PA 19104 - (267) 284–5000.

 CONTACT: Alan Etter (202) 345-6371

SOURCE University of the District of Columbia