Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT) is proud to present “An Evening with the Lacks Family: The Story Behind The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” at 7 pm in the Dean Ballroom on the lower level of the Sheraton Iowa City Hotel.
In the book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, author Rebecca Skloot details the story of Lacks, a poor African-American woman whose cancerous tumor cells were collected by doctors without her knowledge in 1951. These cells, named HeLa to denote their derivation from HEnrietta LAcks, have been one of the most important tools in medicine—vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more—and they are still in use in laboratories around the world today.
As a Senior Research Assistant, Kim Lennox has first-hand experience using HeLa cells in the research department at IDT. “Like so many laboratories, we have been continually growing HeLa cells, in our case, for over 8 years; and we perform experiments with them just about every week. While there are now hundreds of different cell lines that could be used for our kind of work, we often still go back to HeLa cells because they grow so well, are very easy to work with, and are so well characterized. Equally important is that a lot of prior work has been done in HeLa cells, so research continues to be done in this cell line for continuity.”
“Our primary use of HeLa cells is for experimental design and use of synthetic nucleic acids (“oligonucleotides”, the hallmark product of IDT) as tools to alter gene expression. Right now these oligonucleotides are used as research tools, but in the future their use may be extended to serve as therapeutic agents,” notes Kim.
Victoria Baptiste, Henrietta Lacks’ great granddaughter, and David Lacks Jr., grandson of Henrietta Lacks and son of David “Sonny” Lacks, will speak at the event. Victoria travels regularly to talk about the Lacks Family’s story. Inspired by Henrietta’s life, she is a Medical Assistant at Sinai Hospital's Center for Urology Specialties in addition to studying nursing at Baltimore City Community College. David has a degree in computer information systems and has traveled around the United States and Canada setting up computer systems and laboratories for companies and educational institutions. He has used his professional expertise to create and maintain the Lacks Family website.
“An Evening with the Lacks Family: The Story Behind The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” will be the first of many events held October 10–13 as part of the fifth annual Iowa City Book Festival. The festival, presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, welcomes more than 30 authors to the community over the course of the four-day event. For more information and a full schedule, visit http://www.iowacitybookfestival.org.
In addition to support from Integrated DNA Technologies, the Lacks Family event is sponsored 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.