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More About Hela, Less About Henrietta Lacks

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Sandra Gandarez

on 28 December 2010

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Transcript of More About Hela, Less About Henrietta Lacks

More HeLa, Less Henrietta Lacks One of the central issues that the class struggled with is that they found it difficult to cope with the ethics involved in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Two students said they felt the same, until they realized that these HeLa cells made it possible for their mothers to receive cancer drugs that saved their lives. This personal edge was something that not many people had so they maintained their position that they thought it was an unethical use of her cancer cells. No one focused on all of the uses that the HeLa cells have been since Skloot did not make this apparent in her book (I am tempted to call it a novel at this point).
These cells are called “immortal” because they were removed from a cancer biopsy in 1951 and continue to grow in culture mediums around the world. This allows many experiments to be performed using the cells without worrying that they will die before the experiment can be completed. Henrietta Lacks is therefore immortal through her cells since “the cells bear various proportions of the genetic material of which her body was composed when it was alive...” (Landecker) Polio Poliomyelitis (polio) is a viral disease that can effect nerves and eventually lead to partial or full paralysis. HeLa cells led to a polio vaccine that is over 90% effective. Days after a march in NY for a cure for polio, Henrietta Lacks went to John's Hopkins and today polio is classified as a rare disease thanks to the vaccine her cells helped create. This picture was taken just over a year ago in Paris, when my mom and dad came to spend Thanksgiving with me when I was abroad. At the time this picture was taken, she had been cancer free for 6 years. Without aggressive treatment including a mastectomy, hysterectomy, radiation and last but not least, Tamoxifen, my mom wouldn't have been around to visit me abroad or see me graduate this spring. She was fortunate to have been diagnosed fairly early, have access to health care and insurance, a family who supported her, and of course, to have been a beneficiary of expanding technologies that fortunately had advanced quickly enough to save her life. I recently shared with her the story of Henrietta Lacks, as well as her role in HeLa cells and thus the development of Tamoxifen. Mom teared up as I described Lacks' story, and responded by saying how lucky we are that Henrietta Lacks' story ended as it did. "They did that because, despite being cancerous, HeLa still shared many basic characteristics with normal cells: They produced proteins and communicated with one another like normail cells, they divided and generated energy, they expressed genes and regulated them and they were susceptible to infections which made them an optimal tool for synthesizing and studying any number of living things in culture, including bacteria, hormones, proteins, and especially viruses." (Skloot 97) "When it came to growing viruses - as with many other things - the fact that HeLa was malignant just made it more useful. HeLa cells grew much faster than normal cells, and therefore produced faster results. HeLa was a workhorse: it was hardy, it was inexpensive and it was everywhere" (Skloot 97) Chromosomal Disorders Due to a mistake made while mixing HeLa cells in a culture, scientists were able to finally get a count on how many chromosomes humans cells are supposed to contain. This mistake allowed chromosomes to swell and be clearly visible (compared to the clumped appearance they normally have). Using this scientists were able to start diagnosing genetic disorders. Some genetic disorders that can now be found due to this discovery include: Down syndrome (trisomy 21), Klinefelter syndrome, Turner syndrome, and a host of other chromosomal additions, deletions and translocations. With modern technology these can now be tested for before birth through amniocentesis. The image shown is of Patau's syndrom (or trisomy 13). Cancer HeLa cells have allowed numerous tests and treatments to be done with an unlimited supply of test subjects. Having this constantly growing population of cells has allowed them to test without the additional stress of limited supplies of cells. The financial gains of using HeLa cells also allows for more resources to be focused on treatments rather than procuring these specimens. Thanks to HeLa cells many advancements of the treatment of cancers which has made stories like Emily's possible. HPV HPV is a virus that infects the mucosal and skin areas of the body. Some types of the virus are easily treated or just clear up on their own, but others cause genital warts and certain cancers. Henrietta Lacks had cervical caused by this virus (it inserted itself into one of her chromosomes and shut off tumor suppressor genes). Studying her HeLa cells allowed them to see how this virus led to cancer and found that the virus inserts its DNA into the host. Through this knowledge they were able to create a vaccine that blocks the HPV DNA therefore having a prevention method in place. HIV HeLa cells are the primary cells that are used in HIV research. They are being used for new innovative techniques to treat HIV and possibly cure the disease (found that HIV infected HeLa cells are more sensitive to electric stimulation - possible mechanism to eradicate them?). In fact HeLa cells are "Considered standard cell line for use in therapeutic drug development in HIV treatment." Their constant use has allowed a beneficial drug cocktail to be provided to control the drug as much as possible; hopefully with future advancements a cure will be found. Parkinson's As of December 28th, 2010 when the term "HeLa" is typed into PubMed 64, 938 scholarly articles pop up. The use of the cells have multiplied eponentially since their creation. Every year many more advances are being made with the use of HeLa cells. To say they have revolutionized the medical industry would not be an inaccurate statement. HeLa cells are used to determine if lesions on mitochondrial DNA were the cause of Parkinson's. HeLa cells were used to measure the difference in mitochondrial function in Parkinson's and normal patients and established that cetain mutations in these show a visible decline in mitochondrial functions. Thanks to these studies we now know the cause and can now begin trying to find a cure or a more effective treatment. Knowing the origin of a disease is Sources:
-Skloot, R. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
-http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/C/CancerCellsInCulture.html One ofo the issues that we encountered in the class was that we did not find it "science writing." This exploration enabled me to fill in the missing portions that were not introduced througout the text. Many videos have documented several aspects of the HeLa cells all worth watching for a fuller, more enriched idea of what HeLa and Henrietta Lacks were and how to distinguish them.
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