A Conspiracy of Cells

One Woman's Immortal Legacy-And the Medical Scandal It Caused

By Michael Gold

Subjects: Science And Technology
Paperback : 9780887060748, 182 pages, October 1985
Hardcover : 9780887060991, 182 pages, October 1985

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Table of contents

1. Special Delivery
2. The Seed that Took
3. HeLagram
4. Out of Thin Air
5. In the Purple Palace
6. Keeper of the Cells
7. Mug Shots
8. Spreading the Word
9. Damage Report
10. Provenance
11. Another Run-in with Relda
12. Showdown
13. Even the Best of Labs
14. The Little Dutch Boy
15. Battle Fatigue
16. Legacy
17. Epilogue


A Conspiracy of Cells presents the first full account of one of medical science's more bizarre and costly mistakes. On October 4, 1951, a young black woman named Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer. That is, most of Henrietta Lacks died. In a laboratory dish at the Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, a few cells taken from her fatal tumor continued to live--to thrive, in fact. For reasons unknown, her cells, code-named "HeLa," grew more vigorously than any other cells in culture at the time.

Long-time science reporter Michael Gold describes in graphic detail how the errant HeLa cells spread, contaminating and overwhelming other cell cultures, sabotaging research projects, and eluding detection until they had managed to infiltrate scientific laboratories worldwide. He tracks the efforts of geneticist Walter Nelson-Rees to alert a sceptical scientific community to the rampant HeLa contamination. And he reconstructs Nelson-Rees's crusade to expose the embarrassing mistakes and bogus conclusions of researchers who unknowingly abetted HeLa's spread.

Michael Gold has been a writer and editor at the award-winning magazine Science 85.


"A Conspiracy of Cells is a good read and gives a glimpse into the human side of research and the nasty surprises nature can conjure up." -- James Hicks, Science 85

"An outstanding science reporter, Michael Gold looks beyond the cold precision of science to the human side, and exposes its weaknesses. He makes it all too clear that even scientists are only human." -- Margo Crabtree, Science Digest

"Conspiracy is a dazzlingly readable and chilling thriller by a thorough investigate reporter. . . From page one, the reader is drawn deeply into the horror story of how one dead woman's terribly virulent cervical cancer cells have adversely affected the 'war on cancer.' " -- Kathleen Johnston, Science Books & Films