Medicine Mystery Chosen for 2011 Common Reading Experience

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks book coverThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, an intriguing account of medicine, business, social benefit, and personal property, is Albion College's 2011 Common Reading Experience. Selected in recognition of the College's 2011-12 Year of Wellness, the book tells the origins of a medical research tool that continues to be critical to new discoveries today.

This book tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, the source of HeLa, medical research cells that have been continually regenerating for more than 60 years. Although HeLa are used by research projects worldwide, author Rebecca Skloot discovered that researchers knew nothing about the poor black tobacco farmer whose aggressive cancer led to countless breakthroughs in medical science.

Albion College history professor Marcy Sacks noted that Immortal Life raises nonmedical debate as well. "Lacks' tissue sample was taken and utilized without her knowledge or consent, and her family continued to live in poverty even as pharmaceutical companies were making billions with treatments developed from her cells," Sacks explained. "The recovery of this history allows us to examine race relations, medical science, and ethics—issues touching all of our lives."

The Richard M. Smith Common Reading Experience is an integral part of the First-Year Experience at Albion College. All first-year students read the book over the summer and participate in discussing the work in the fall. The experience is designed to establish the ideas of scholarship through a common learning experience, begin student understanding of differences in the context of the Albion College community, and provide an entry into ideas of global citizenship.