Needs of the many, needs of the few: Henrietta Lacks, a woman who was the product of tobacco farms and steel mills, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951. Cells from her body were taken by researchers because they were unlike any they'd ever seen: They could be grown and kept alive even after multiple multiplications. That hardy cell line, known as HeLa, went on to help cure polio, is used in the pursuit of a cure for cancer and has generally helped humanity a thousand times over, with 20 tons of viable cells grown in the past 60 years. The problem was that no one told Henrietta or her family. Science writer Rebecca Skloot reads from and discusses her book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which was given out to all incoming freshmen as part of UCLA's “Common Book” series (what, no Al Jaffee?) and touches on issues of bio-ethics and altruism, while unveiling the story behind one of the major medical advances of the 20th century — which saves the lives of people who get to debate these issues in comfy seats that aren't in tobacco farms or steel mills. Royce Hall, UCLA, Wstwd.; Tues., Nov. 1, 8 p.m.; $20. (310) 825-4401,

Tue., Nov. 1, 8 p.m., 2011

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