> Learn more about "The Immortal Life..." and author Rebecca Skloot.
> Read "The Sequel" article in the New York Times from March.
You know Henrietta Lacks. What do you mean you don't know her? Do you have polio? No? That's because of Henrietta Lacks. Do you have tuberculosis? No? Again, it's because of Henrietta Lacks. All of the advances made in genome mapping, cancer and AIDS research are all thanks to Henrietta.
Henrietta Lacks went to Johns Hopkins Hospital because something that felt like a "knot" in her womb was giving her trouble. She was wrongly given a clean bill of health several times before the doctors found a tumor right where she said it would be--where she felt the knot in her womb. Dr. George Gey (pronounded "GUY") took samples of the tumor, not only to form a diagnosis, but for his research as well. Henrietta was not informed of the research, nor did she give permission for such research to be done with anything that had come from her body. In the early part of the twentieth century, much less attention was paid to the rights of a patient and their rights regarding tissue taken from them. All Henrietta knew was that samples were being taken for diagnostic purposes. She had no idea what would come of the tumor sample.
Dr. George Gey discovered that Henrietta's cancer cells, labeled "HeLa" for obvious reasons, were virulent, both in regard to the way they grew in culture and how invasive they were in terms of patient prognosis. Henrietta was diagnosed with cervical cancer and immediately underwent radium treatment, a standard treatment for cancer, that turned her belly as black as coal. The radium didn't work. After a grueling battle, Henrietta Lacks passed away leaving behind too many children for her husband to reasonably care for on his own. Her story is tragic...but the cells...
I won't spoil the book for you, but a news update on the story came out just a few months ago. Over the years leading up to the present, researchers have developed vaccinations for polio, tuberculosis, and many other illnesses, diseases, and ailments. They have used HeLa cells in cancer and AIDS research, making progress in leaps and bounds. All because of Henrietta Lacks and her cancer cells. Now there is news of a groundbreaking genome sequence of Henrietta's cells according to this article in the New York Times, written by the book's author Rebecca Skloot.
I hope you read the book and the article and find it as fascinating as I did. I just summarized a bit of it here in this blog, but there are riveting details that I've left out so not to spoil it for you. I would really like to hear from anyone who has an opinion on the story. I haven't encountered anyone else who has read the book, despite it being on the New York Times bestseller list. If anything, I hope this inspires someone to read it and take an interest. Let me know if you do.