Common Book Program to host “Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” speakers

AUBURN UNIVERSITY –The Auburn Connects! Common Book Program will host Sonny Lacks and David Lacks Jr. Thursday, March 21, in a free public lecture on “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,”the 2012-13 Common Book selection. The lecture begins at 7 p.m. in Foy Lecture Auditorium.

Henrietta Lacks, the subject of Rebecca Skloots’ best-selling book, was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells, taken without her knowledge in 1951, went on to become the first “immortal” human cells ever grown in the laboratory. Those cells, nicknamed HeLa, became one of the most important tools in modern medicine. Though Henrietta died in 1951, her cells are still the most widely used cell line in the world.

Sonny Lacks, Henrietta’s son, tells the family’s story. Lacks and his siblings didn’t learn that the cells existed until the 1970s, when scientists wanted to do research on them to learn more about the remarkable “immortality” of their mother’s cell line. Henrietta’s children were then used in research without their consent and without a full understanding of the significance of their mother’s cells. Henrietta’s cells have helped biotech companies make millions of dollars, yet her family has never benefited from the commercialization of HeLa cells.

Lacks shares with audiences what it meant to find out – decades after the fact – that his mother’s cells were being used in laboratories around the world, bought and sold by the billions. In his talk, he puts a personal face on big issues such as the history of medical experimentation on African-Americans, the birth of bioethics and the legal battles over “informed consent.”

Lacks will be joined on stage by his son, David Jr., and Dr. Ruth Faden, the Philip Franklin Wagley Professor of Biomedical Ethics and director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. Faden will also speak March 21 at Auburn University’s Multicultural Center’s Watch and Learn program at 11:45 a.m. in the Student Center, room 2222/2223.      Go to for more information.

AU Connects! Common Book Program is an initiative of the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies. Throughout the academic year, incoming freshmen, current students, staff, faculty and members of the Auburn community participate in discussions, lectures and other programming that explores the issues and themes of the book selection. Each year, the program culminates in a major public lecture featuring the author and/or individuals associated with the book.

The Lacks and Faden lecture is sponsored by Auburn Connects! as part of the Common Book Program. Parking will be available in the Ralph Brown Draughon Library parking deck. For a pass, contact Valerie Bagley, Common Book Program coordinator, at (334) 844-5721 or Auburn University Bookstore will make copies of Skloot’s book available for purchase and signing at the program.

For more information, go to or contact Valerie Bagley.

Contact: Valerie Bagley, (334) 844-5721 (, or Mike Clardy, Office of Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9999 (