WALT’S OPINION

March 25, 2012 at 7:29 pm Leave a comment

WALT’S OPINION

ON

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

BY

REBECCA SKLOOT

The cover of this book displays the picture of an attractive young black woman, full of life and will soon die.

In 1951, Henrietta Lacks would lose her battle with cancer. During that battle, cells were taken from her body that would change science forever.

Let me interject that I was a scientist for 34 years, the last nearly ten years using tissue culture in the projects I was assigned. Today I’m sure many young scientist use tissue culture to answer life’s mysteries, a powerful tool for studying disease. To this day, Henrietta Lacks’ contributes to this work. For the cells taken from her body had a unique property sought but not yet discovered. They had the ability to grow and continue to grow to this day, somehow gaining the property of ‘immortality’.

Let me take a moment to explain the importance of this property. Today scientists take the use of immortal cells for granted in their work. What constitutes an immortal cell line? Immortal cells are cells that can be passaged forever. Passaging involves taking containers of cells, harvesting them by releasing them from the container and transferring those cells to multiple containers where they will multiply and fill the container. The process can be repeated over and over again with the same results.

The reason I write this piece is that any scientist who works with tissue culture owes a debt of gratitude to Henrietta Lacks for making the initiation of this branch of science possible. I have worked with her cells, and before I read this book, had no idea of their source other than cells taken from a tumor. I feel that any scientist involved in cell culture, and especially if they use a certain cell type, have an obligation to read this book. Those cells taken from Henrietta were named using the first two letters of her first and last name. They were called HeLa cells. Now you scientists know the importance of this book. I’m sure her cells are the most studied cells used in tissue culture in the world. Her cells are responsible for major scientific advances. Please read this book and learn the life of the woman that made those achievements possible.

There is a dark side to this story. Some members of Henrietta’s are unable to get health insurance. Unfortunately, this is all too important in this country. Also, until the author of this book began looking into her life, the family had no idea that her cells were harvested and the importance of her contribution to science.

I hope both scientist and nonscientist read this book. It was on the N.Y. Times nonfiction bestsellers list for some time. It’s an awesome read.

Entry filed under: Walt Trizna, WALT'S OPINIONS. Tags: , , , .

WALT’S OPINIONS UPDATE STAYING ALIVE

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