Tuesday, July 27, 2010

HeLa Cells

Anybody familiar with biology and medicine will be familiar with the HeLa cell line. A new book about how those cells came about is published by Rebecca Skloot called "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks". I became familiar with it in college and then a little more in graduate school (med school). I remember it was said they came from a cancer from a woman named Helen Lane. Boy, was I and a number of others, including my professors, wrong. This is a very intriguing book filled with the recent history of medicine, science and one family. Helen Lane was a made up name the real woman was a poor black woman from Baltimore named Henrietta Lacks. What I didn't know was that the cancer these cells were obtained from were cervical. The reason for the immortality of the cells and the cancer was HPV or human papilla virus. Her cells have made the recent advances in biology, medicine, and genetics possible. But also is the story of her painful death and trials that she and her family went through. Her family has not seen any compensation from that donation, which she or her family were not told about in the 1950's. It is also a story of her descendants and their dysfunctional lives. Another thread through this book, but not blatantly said is how poor illiterate people fall back on religion and the supernatural to explain things they do not understand. It was, what I think, the heroic efforts of the author to bring this story to light. Also, the moral and ethical problem there is world wide about obtaining research specimens and there ultimate use. At first I thought I knew the story, but reading this book really showed how much I did not. I found this book intriguing, insightful and a true human story. I recommend it highly.

Skeptical DoDo

No comments: