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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks PDF/EPUB ´ The

Her name was Henrietta Lacks but scientists know her as HeLa She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture they are still alive today though she has been dead for than sixty years If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale they’d weigh than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine uncovered secrets of cancer viruses and the atom bomb’s effects helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization cloning and gene mapping and have been bought and sold by the billionsYet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown buried in an unmarked graveNow Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells from Henrietta’s small dying hometown of Clover Virginia — a land of wooden slave quarters faith healings and voodoo — to East Balti today where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cellsHenrietta’s family did not learn of her “immortality” until than twenty years after her death when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent And though the cells had launched a multimillion dollar industry that sells human biological materials her family never saw any of the profits As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows the story of the Lacks family — past and present — is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans the birth of bioethics and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made ofOver the decade it took to uncover this story Rebecca became enmeshed in the lives of the Lacks family—especially Henrietta’s daughter Deborah who was devastated to learn about her mother’s cells She was consumed with questions Had scientists cloned her mother? Did it hurt her when researchers infected her cells with viruses and shot them into space? What happened to her sister Elsie who died in a mental institution at the age of fifteen? And if her mother was so important to medicine why couldn’t her children afford health insurance?Intimate in feeling astonishing in scope and impossible to put down The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks captures the beauty and drama of scientific discovery as well as its human consequences


10 thoughts on “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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    The doorbell rang the other day and when I answered it there was a very slick guy in a nice suit standing there and a limousine parked at the curb He started shaking my hand and wormed his way into the house“Mr Kemper I’m John Doe with Dee Bag Industries Incorporated I need you to sign some paperwork and take a ride with me Don’t worry I’ll have you home in a day or two” he said Then he pulled a document out of his briefcase set it on the coffee table and pushed a pen in my hand “Wait a second What the hell is this all about?” I said as I tried to pick up the paper to read it but Doe kept trying to force my hand with the pen down on it so I couldn‘t see what it said“Oh that’s just legal mumbo jumbo You’d rather try and read your mortgage agreement than this old thing Just put your name down and let’s be on our way shall we?” he saidThere was a brief scuffle but I managed to distract him by messing up his carefully gelled hair As he shrieked and ran around looking for a mirror I finally got to read the document“This is a medical consent form What’s going on?” I demanded as I shook the paper at him Once he had combed and smoothed his hair back into perfection Doe sighed“Very well Mr Kemper I guess I’ll have to come clean Do you remember when you had your appendix out when you were in grade school?”“Sure That gave me one of my better scars but that was like 30 years ago Why are you here now?” I asked“You’re probably not aware of this but your appendix was used in a research project by DBII” Doe said“Really? I assumed it just got incinerated or used in the hospital cafeteria’s meatloaf special Why would anyone want to study my rotten appendix?”“Oh all kinds of research is done on tissue gathered during medical procedures Most people don’t know that but it’s very common” Doe said“OK but why are you here now?”“Well your appendix turned out to be very special It was secreting some kind of pus that no one had seen before After many tests it turned out to be a new chemical compound with commercial applications So a patent was filed based on that compound and turned into a consumer product” Doe admitted“That sounds disgusting What was it used in? Because I want to make sure to never buy it” I said“It’s the basis for the adhesive on Post It Notes” Doe said“Are you freaking kidding me? Post It Notes are based on my old appendix?”“I’m absolutely serious Mr Kemper Now we at DBII need your help Unfortunately for us you haven’t had anything removed lately So I have to get your consent if we’re going to do further studies” Doe said“But you already got my goo seeping appendix I don’t have another one” I said “True but sales have been down for Post It Notes lately So after the marketing and research boys talked it over for a while they thought we should bring you in for a full body scan Maybe you’ve got a spleen giving out or something else that we could pull out and see if we could use it” Doe said“This is pretty damn disturbing” I said“Why? You’re an organ donor right? Same thing” Doe said“I don’t consider someone lucking into an organ if the Chiefs win a play off game and I have a goddamn heart attack the same thing as companies making money off tissue I had removed decades ago and didn’t know anything about” I said“Fortunately the American government and legal system disagree So how about it Mr Kemper? Will you come with me?” Doe asked“I dunno What’s my end of this? You already owe me a fat check for the Post Its”“Oh no You won’t get any money from the Post Its or if any future discoveries from your tissues lead to gains” Doe said“That’s complete bullshit”“Again the legal system disagrees with you But this is for science Mr Kemper You don’t want to hold up medical scientific research that could save lives do you?”“It’s for Post It Notes”“Maybe but who is to say that the cure for some terrible disease isn't lurking somewhere in your genes? Could you live with yourself if you prevented crucial medical research just because you were ticked off that you didn’t get any money for your appendix? Remember that it’s not like you could have NOT had your appendix removed At least not if you wanted to keep living And I highly doubt that you would have had the resources to have it studied and discovered the adhesive for yourself even if you would have taken it home with you in a jar after it was removed We’re the ones who spent all that money to get some good out of a piece of disgusting gunk that tried to kill you So shouldn’t we be compensated? What are you? Some kind of damn dirty hippie liberal socialist?” Doe said in disgust“You’re a hell of a corporate lackey Doe” I said“Thank you”“Fine I’ll do it” I said as I signed the form “But I want some free Post It Notes”“No deal Steal them from work like everyone else” Doe saidObviously I‘m a big fat liar and none of this happened but I really did have my appendix out as a kid Plus my tonsils got yanked and I’ve had my fair share of blood taken over the years What this book taught me is that it’s highly likely that some of my scraps are sitting in frozen jars in labs somewhere Yours too If any of us have anything unique in our tissues that may be valuable for medical research it’s possible that they’d be worth a fortune but we’d never see a dime of itHenrietta Lacks couldn’t be considered lucky by any stretch of the imagination A black woman who grew up poor on a tobacco farm she married her cousin and moved to the Balti area Her husband apparently liked to step out on her and Henrietta ended up with STDs and one of her children was born mentally handicapped and had to be institutionalized In 1951 Henrietta was diagnosed with cervical cancer by doctors at Johns Hopkins During her biopsy cell samples were taken and given to a researcher who had been working on the problem of trying to grow human cells Henrietta’s cancer spread wildly and she was dead within a year But her cells turned out to be an incredible discovery because they continued growing at a very fast rate The doctor at Johns Hopkins started sharing his find for no compensation and this coincided with a large need for cell samples due to testing of the polio vaccine The HeLa cells would be crucial for confirming that the vaccine worked and soon companies were created to grow and ship them to researchers around the world Since then Henrietta’s cells have been sent into outer space and subjected to nuclear tests and cited in over 60000 medical research papersUnfortunately no one ever asked Henrietta’s permission and her family knew nothing about the important role her cells played in medicine for decades Poor and with little formal education Henrietta’s children were confused by what was actually done to their mother and upset when they learned that her tissue was part of a multi million dollar industry that they‘ve received no compensation fromRebecca Skloot has written a fascinating book that clearly outlines why Henrietta’s cells were so important why she went unrecognized for decades the pain it’s caused her family and the way that new medical discoveries over the last sixty years have opened a potential Pandora’s Box of legal and ethical issues regarding tissue collection research patents and money This book brings up a lot of issues that we’re probably all going to be dealing with in the future Also posted at Kemper's Book Blog