Ubben Lecturer Rebecca Skloot Awarded Wellcome Trust Book Prize

Ubben Lecturer Rebecca Skloot Awarded Wellcome Trust Book Prize

November 10, 2010

Also: Rebecca Skloot's Ubben Lecture

84627November 10, 2010, Greencastle, Ind. — "Rebecca Skloot's book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has won the Wellcome Trust Book Prize, it was announced Tuesday," reports the Los Angeles Times. "It is the second year of the award, which is open to works of fiction and nonfiction published in the U.K. that celebrate medicine." Skloot discussed the book at DePauw University on September 9 as a guest of the Timothy and Sharon Ubben Lecture Series. (at left: Skloot at DePauw's Prindle Institute for Ethics)

"Skloot, whose book was selected from a short list of six -- three other works of nonfiction and two novels -- will receive about $40,000 for the award," notes Carolyn Kellogg.

The Immortal Life, the result of a decade of work, also tops a new Amazon.com list of 2010's best books. It tells the story of a poor resident of East Baltimore who contracted cervical cancer and was treated at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in 1951. Samples of  Lacks' tissue were taken without her knowledge. Named "HeLa" (short for Henrietta Lacks), the first "immortal" human cells grown in culture are still alive today. The cells were vital in a number of breakthroughs, including the development of the polio vaccine and uncovering secrets of cancer, viruses, and important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping.84593

Video Link [Download Video: "Race and Cells" - 1728kb] "People didn't know that the cells had come from a black woman until the '70s, which is actually a really interesting part of the story," Skloot told an overflow audience in DePauw's Moore Theatre.  "Here you had a time period, the '50s, where black people could not go into restaurants, they couldn't use the same bathrooms and water fountains as white people, yet this one black woman's cells were being used to develop the polio vaccine, which saved millions of white people's lives."

Read more at the newspaper's website and access a summary of Skloot's day at DePauw here.

Established in 1986 through the generous support of 1958 DePauw graduates Timothy H. and Sharon Williams Ubben, the Ubben Lecture Series was designed to "bring the world to Greencastle." Previous guests have included Mikhail Gorbachev, Tony Blair, Benazir Bhutto, Margaret Thatcher, Peyton Manning, Howard Dean and Karl Rove, Spike Lee, Shimon Peres and Paul Rusesabagina. To view a complete roster of Ubben Lecturers -- which includes links to video clips and news stories -- click here.

Oscar Arias, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former president of Costa Rica, will deliver the next Ubben Lecture on Wednesday, December 8.  Learn more in this article.