The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Part II

  • What did you think about the reading?

The book has only gotten better since Part 1. It has gone into greater detail over what Henrietta meant to her family, and how her family feels about her cells being taken and used. It also further explores the underlying indifference towards human life that seemed omnipresent during the medical research of the past. However, the best part of this chapter is how it takes a spin on Henrietta’s cells. During the first chapter the cells were hailed as possibly the single most important finding in modern medicine due to their durability and fast replication, however now those traits are the biggest problem regarding the cells. The deeper analysis and new problems surrounding HeLa has only made me more interested in how this story will end, and I can’t wait to find out.

  • What did you learn

I’ve learnt much more about the predicament of Henrietta’s family. At first I thought that the Lacks family’s problem with the issue of Henrietta’s cells was funded solely on superstitious beliefs about the cells, and that they wanted researchers to stop experimenting on the cells at all. Now I’ve learnt that they don’t have much of a problem with the cells being used for science, in fact they are proud that Henrietta has done so much for science. All the family wants is some compensation from those getting rich off their relative’s cells, enough to get health insurance and live a less impoverished life. Furthermore they want peace and quiet away from the “white” reporters who demand information out of them, while not even explaining what a cell is or what exactly Henrietta has done for the lives of millions. Beyond the problems of the family though, I’ve learnt about the problems the cells caused in the medical field. Although HeLa cells were a medical miracle at first, they turned out to be a nightmare later. The cells were so durable and could multiply so rapidly that they were taking over other cells and leading scientists on wild goose chases. Scientists at the time believed from what they saw in the lab that cells spontaneously became cancerous, and that some cancer virus existed. However, one man’s report proved that normal cells were really just being infected by HeLa, and that the millions invested in forming pure cell lines in the ATCC were a waste because almost all the cell lines just got infected by HeLa. This turn on events left the entire medical field in disarray, and me wondering how this problem was ever resolved.

  • What questions do you still have

Will the Lacks family ever get compensation? How will the medical field sort out the problems of HeLa cells when they have been distributed throughout the world?  Will all of Henrietta’s cells need to be terminated? How are HeLa cells used today?

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2 thoughts on “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Part II

  1. Would it be insensitive of me to mention that when I read that the HeLa cells cost the industry millions of dollars because they contaminated everything caused me to laugh? And then think serves them right seeing as they were morally illegal cells. Unfortunately this problem was solved by causing even greater distress to the Lacks family by making them submit to blood tests for genetic markers. What you mention about how none of the family knew was a cell was is interesting as well. Deborah tried mutiple times to learn science as to understand her mothers cells but it isn’t until Ms. Skloot comes along that she actually does.

  2. The contamination is a sticky situation. However, were the cells actually morally illegal? That’s a question I still don’t have an answer to. Also, HeLa cells are still widely used today and have given so much to the science community. But not much to her own family.

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