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Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

1144 words - 5 pages

Cancer is a genetic disorder characterized by the excessive proliferation of cells (Kocher slide 4). The genetic disease itself is not inherited however, but is dependent on a number of factors, which include inherited mutations, induced mutations, and environmental contributions (Kocher slide 8). The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot examines the life of a cervical cancer patient, named Henrietta Lacks, whose malignant tumors would become major contributors to the field of medical research. Today, HeLa research is a global process that involves many fronts of genetic and medical research.
Rebecca Skloot paints a picture of Lacks’s life just as she approached her death and much of the controversy that surrounded the collection of her cancerous cells. These cells, which came to be termed “HeLa cells” are used today in medical research. These HeLa cells have “upregulated” telomerase that elongate the telomeric ends of chromosomes and hinder the process of apoptosis and result in “unlimited cycles of replication” (Kocher slide 33). These observations have led to HeLa cells being referred to as immortal. Many cancer cells exhibit this upregulated telomerase characteristic. As a result, it contributes to the malignant phenotype.
Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman that lived in Baltimore, MD in the 1950s. The novel begins with the year 1951. In this year, Henrietta Lacks begins to have pain that she describes as a “knot” in her womb. The time period in which Lacks was experiencing these symptoms was still a time in which segregation and racism were rampant in American society. For this reason, blacks were only evaluated at certain hospitals. Lacks visits Dr. Jones at Johns Hopkins Hospital, which is inconveniently located. Dr. Jones ultimately ends up finding a growth on Lack’s cervix. Upon learning about the diagnosis from Dr. Jones, Lacks reacts in a subtle fashion and keeps the news to herself about her illness. In due time, Lacks begins to experience am abundance of pain and is hospitalized. Treatments are continued, although they are for the most part unsuccessful. Lacks’s pain is treated but treatment of the cancer itself has become a lost cause, as the disease has metastasized, or violently spread, throughout her entire body. Henrietta’s Lack’s death comes on October 4 of 1951.
Much of the focus of the novel comes from what is done with Lacks’s body post-mortem. Prior to her death, Henrietta Lacks signs a consent form that is vague in nature, that essentially allows surgeons to collect tissues from her body for medical research. However, much of the controversy surrounds this consent form and the manner in which professionals went about collecting tissues from Lacks’s body. Cancerous and healthy tissues are collected from Lacks’s body and are sent to a laboratory run by an individual named George Gey who is able to grow these cells in culture. Soon, Gey sends samples of the cells to researchers worldwide,...

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