The Immortal Like of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

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The Immortal Like of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, summarizes the life of Henrietta Lacks, as well as the way her life changed the world forever. The thought of enjoying a book that, at its core, is about medical research did not occur to me. However, after reading the book I must say that it was actually enjoyable, fitting well with our class.

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I did find the more than 300 pages quite a bit more than I could handle, especially in an electronic format. I ended up finding the book at the library and had a much easier time. Overall, I feel that genetics can be a daunting subject, but this book did help drive home some basic concepts covered in our other reading, tests, and assignments.

Following a pregnancy, Henrietta Lacks experienced persistent abdominal pain and unusual bleeding which she believed could be an ectopic pregnancy. Being African American, the only hospital near her that would see her was Johns Hopkins Hospital, some distance away. Doctor Howard Jones accepted care for Henrietta at the hospital and examined her, leading to the discovery of cervical tumor. The author suggests that Dr. Jones hadn’t seen anything like this before and removed a small tissue sample to by biopsied. These samples were sent to George Gey, a biologist at Johns Hopkins, and after being studied for a short time, the remnants of the tissue sample were placed in storage and labeled HeLa, the name posthumously assigned to these cells. The results showed that the tumor was cancerous and all this happened without Henrietta or her family knowing exactly what was happening and why.

The HeLa sample in storage was later shared with colleagues at various institutions, and it was quickly discovered that the cells taken from Henrietta Lacks had a very unique quality: they seemed immortal in that they proliferated quickly and indefinitely outside the body. This uniqueness gave these HeLa cells an extraordinarily important place in research in that various diseases and treatments could be tested on live human cells without affecting the person they belong to. After unwittingly providing science with an immeasurable gift, and without consenting to anything beyond the exam by Dr. Jones, Henrietta Lacks passed away in 1951.

In 1952, researchers at a different hospital began tests involving the Polio virus on HeLa cells. A small sample of cells were used to produce more, identical copies of the HeLa cells, allowing a wider variety of tests to be performed, and significantly reduced the risk of running out of the needed cells. It was these tests and the associated research that led to the eventual Polio vaccine,

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