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 skeptical 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.