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Oprah Winfrey: Henrietta Lacks and HeLa Cells

Oprah Winfrey will be starring in HBO’s adaptation of Rebecca Skloot’s award-winning book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman who died in 1951 of cervical cancer and whose tumor cells have gone on to be reproduced and sequenced by scientific researchers.

In the 1950s, the head of tissue culture research at Johns Hopkins, George Gey, was looking for a way to culture human cells in order to conduct medical research. Lacks’ cells, unlike others he had tested, multiplied in the lab environment, becoming the basis for much research into disease. Her cells created a strain called HeLa, which lives on today. Gey’s research was conducted without the consent of the Lacks family.

In 2010, Radiolab hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich interviewed author Rebecca Skloot about her book, which was ten years in the making.

Winfrey will play Henrietta Lacks’ daughter Deborah. The film will be written and directed by George C. Wolfe. Other members of the Lacks family will consult on the film, which will begin shooting in summer 2016.

The Sloan Foundation is a founding sponsor of WNYC’s Radiolab.