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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Do your cells belong to you? Maybe not

The New York Times has published (only on-line, but print will be available soon) a review of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which looks like it's going to be an important and interesting read.

Who was Henrietta Lacks, and why is she immortal? Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951. However, some cells from the cervical cancer that killed her -- literally tons of them -- are still dividing, and metabolizing -- alive, by many biological definitions.. See here for the Wikipedia article on these cells. Neither Mrs. Lacks, nor her family, gave permission for this use, and the family didn't even know about it for over a quarter of a century. Apparently, this could happen to your cells, or mine, according to the book review, and the Wikipedia article. The book is said to cover the life of Mrs. Lacks, and of her children, the science, and the ethical issues.

The first link in this post has a few photos of the Lacks family. Amazon has an extensive page on the book, linking to some podcasts by the author, Rebecca Skloot.

Thanks for reading!


atlibertytosay said...

The Greenville News indicates that you are somehow related to Redmond Coyle. If so, my sincerest condolences Dr. LaBar.

Anonymous said...

I guess at some point someone has to draw a line with what would be considered ethical or appropriate use of someone's cells and who would that be? Is a sticky issue: again, like so much in the bioethical realm: who gets to decide what is appropriate and why?

Martin LaBar said...

Thank you, atlibertytosay.

He was my brother-in-law. I knew him since he was in high school.

Martin LaBar said...

Thank you, Marc Magisana. It's a sticky issue, for sure, as you say.