Sunday, March 21, 2010

Medical Research

Here is the concept: The approach researchers take to find cures for cancer is to obtain cancerous tissue, keep it alive in a lab environment, and treat the tissue cells with test vaccines to see if the cancer cells stop growing. This is how chemotherapy and radiation became treatments.

The problem, in part, is that human cells will not live for long outside the body. (Exception: stem cells from human embryos can live and grow into tissue or organs as directed by researchers. The foreskin from circumcised baby boys can grow into large sheets of skin for transplant onto burn victims. One foreskin can grow into a surface area the size of 6 soccer fields. Bone marrow is another exception.)

Everyone will die and everyone's cells will also die, except the cells from one woman, Henrietta Lacks, who died at age 31 in 1951. Her cells are alive today and have been used by researchers, universities, hospitals, labs, and science for the past 60 years.

Mrs. Lacks was a poor woman with 5 children who lived in the tobacco farm country of Clover, Virginia near South Boston. Her cervical cancer cells were harvested and kept alive by Dr. George Gey. The cells grew (multiplied) and were given away or sold to the science community ever since. The cells have gone into space and to the moon. They helped test the safety of the polio vaccine instead of using monkey cells.

When Rebecca Skloot was age sixteen and in a biology class, her teacher wrote Henrietta's name on the board when he began to explain cells. After class, young Skloot approached the teacher and wanted to know more about Henrietta Lacks. The teacher indicated he didn't know much about her, but if she would research this woman and write a summary, he would give her extra credit. Twenty years later the book "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" was published in February 2010 by Crown and authored by Rebecca Skloot.

In fact, very little was known about Henrietta Lacks until Ms. Skloot spent years researching her descendants, her hometown, Johns Hopkins Medical Institution, and the medical community processing her cells. Rebecca Skloot continued her education and graduated college with degrees in science as she pursued the complicated history of HeLa cells. HeLa is derived from the first two letters of the name of the person from which the cells were harvested, Henrietta Lacks.

This book explains what happens to tissue and organs surgically removed from people and describes who has legal ownership and rights to whatever benefit may come from the procedure.

This new book is informative and very interesting!

Have a good week!


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