Wisconsin States Interview with Rebecca Skloot

By Jeanne Kolker

Excerpts are taken from Jeanne Kolker interview with Rebecca Skloot for the Wisconsin State Journal.

Since the book was published, has anyone else come forward and told you anything you wish you could have included in the book?

Not in terms of the story of the HeLa cells and the progress of it. One of the questions that often comes up is, “Why did HeLa cells grow when no other cells did?” The answer is we don’t exactly know. I put whatever hints we have about that into the book, but we still don’t know. There’s actually a group of scientists now who are trying to get me a better answer to that question. It’s what everybody wants to know. It’s this big question mark in the story.

 Your book was named one of the five best of the bestsellers by NPR. They called the book a “science thriller.”

I get that a lot, some version of science thriller. There is a detective-y kind of thing to it. The first time I heard the thriller part I was a little surprised.

What do you hope students take away from your book as they go on to work in labs and do their own research?

It’s really important for scientists in general to think about the fact that there are human beings behind every biological sample that we use in a laboratory — they have their own lives, experiences and thoughts about what might be happening with those tissues, even if their names aren’t associated with them. It’s sort of a reminder to future generations of scientists to think about the people behind the subjects that are often used in research.

Also, it’s a story about how scientific progress happens faster than the regulations that govern it. For the most part, the regulation of science is retrospective. We often get to a point where we say, “Oops, we should have had certain regulations in place that we didn’t.” That’s an important thing for young scientists to understand, that it’s a constantly evolving field, and so is the oversight of it and the ethics of it.