Lacks Family to visit Iowa City for Book Festival event

immortal-life-of-henrietta-lacksThe 2013 Iowa City Book Festival will begin Oct. 10 with a free community event built around the popular science book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Two members of the Lacks family will be in Iowa City that evening for a special presentation,

“An Evening with the Lacks Family: The Story Behind The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” presented by Integrated DNA Technologies. It will be held at 7 p.m. in the Dean Ballroom on the lower level of the Sheraton Iowa City.

The bestselling book by Rebecca Skloot details the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor African-American woman whose cells, taken without her knowledge in 1951, became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more.

Victoria Baptiste, Henrietta Lacks’ great granddaughter, and David Lacks Jr., grandson of Henrietta Lacks and son of David “Sonny” Lacks, will speak. 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 labs for companies and educational institutions. He lends his talent into helping create and maintain the Lacks Family website.

The Lacks Family was in the news earlier this month, when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) shared that an agreement has been reached with the family regarding the continued use of HeLa cells in research, specifically with regard to sequencing of the HeLa genome. Researchers now will apply to NIH for access to the full genome sequence data from HeLa cells, and a six-member panel will review the proposals. David Lacks Jr. is one of two family representatives on that panel.

“Besides their priceless contributions to biomedical research over the past 60 years, Mrs. Lacks and her family are now serving as a catalyst for policies that advance science, build trust, and protect research participants,” said Dr. Kathy L. Hudson, NIH Deputy Director for Science, Outreach and Policy. (read more about the panel here:

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.

A series of events in the weeks leading up to the event will give community members the chance to discuss the book in more detail, including programs that explore specific aspects of the story.

Sept. 17, 7 p.m. – Book club discussion, Swisher Community Library

Sept. 19, 6:30 p.m. – Book discussion, North Liberty Community Library

Sept 25, 4-5 p.m. – “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: A Discussion of Science, Ethics, and Community Engagement,” Room N120 in the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health Building. Panel discussion featuring Briana Woods-Jaeger, assistant professor of community and behavioral health; Sandra Daack-Hirsch, associate professor of nursing; and Mark Behlke, chief scientific officer at Integrated DNA Technologies. Reception to follow in CPHB atrium. Open to all UI students, faculty, staff, and community members.

Sept. 28, 10:30 a.m. – “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: A Book Discussion.” Join Iowa City Public Library librarians for a discussion of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, Meeting Room E of the Iowa City Public Library.

Oct. 1, 7 p.m. – Book discussion, Coralville Public Library in the Board Room. A wide-ranging discussion of the book and the issues it raises – of racism, poverty, and medical ethics.

Oct. 1, 7 p.m. – “The Henrietta Lacks Story: A Discussion on Gender, Race and Medical Ethics,” in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library. The program will cover the evolution of the federal regulations for human subjects’ research and the involvement of minority and vulnerable subject groups in research prior to- and since the regulations were enacted. Scheduled presenters are Dr. J. Andrew Bertolatus and Dr. Martine Dunnwald. Sponsors of the program are the Iowa City Public Library, the City of Iowa City Human Rights Commission and the Diversity Committee at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

October 10, 12:30 p.m.-1:30 p.m. – Discussion with Henrietta Lacks family members, Room N110 in the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health Building. Open to all UI students, faculty, and staff.

“An Evening with the Lacks Family: The Story Behind The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” will be the first of many events held Oct. 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