Monday, November 05, 2012

Thoughts on the Skloot's Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The story of HeLa by Rebecca Skloot (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) is a very interesting book that combines the personal story of a family with a discussion of the science underlying cell culture. The book describes many of the scientific advances that HeLa was associated with such as developing techniques for transferring cells around the country. In doing so, it highlights the importance of sterility in doing this (explaining how one cell culture can readily contaminate another). HeLa cells were also important for developing the hybridoma technique of fusing different cells, for the initial mapping of chromosomes, for developing the polio vaccine.

Some of the things that doctors used to do with patient’s tissues were rather shocking before the present day; not only performing experiments on them but also doing various procedures to people without their knowledge. In this context, HeLa cells featured very much in the development of the ideas of privacy and the notions of IRBs and so forth.

Overall I felt that the book imparted a lot of useful scientific knowledge and I found it really amazing how this one cell line has made such a huge impact on biological research. Of course I was wondering if these types of studies could be done today -- and, of course, the answer is no.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Skloot (Author)
My tag: hela0mg