Thursday, July 14, 2011

To See HeLa Cells and Read about Them

Last month when I attended Survivors Day at CINJ, I visited Dr Scotto's lab. At the end of the tour, Dr. Scotto told our group that she had set up a microscope so that we could view HeLa cells. HeLa cells are the cancer cells from Henrietta Lacks. I was thrilled to actually see these cells that in the right growth medium will continue to grow and replicate... and grow and replicate ... and grow and replicate . I remembered reading news articles about these cells and how they have been used for years in medical research from HIV to polio to cancer. Alongside the microscope was a copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

A few days later I bought a copy of the book and began reading Henrietta's story.The book's author researched Henrietta and her family. Henrietta was a black woman who lived in Baltimore and died in 1951. But it was not until 20 years later that her family knew that HeLa cells were from Henrietta's cervix. The doctors never asked Henrietta or her family if they could take and use the tissue samples. The initial research happened before there were government regulations guarding our privacy and tissue use. I wish that more people knew her story and her cell's role in understanding so many diseases in the past 50 years. And her cells potential to help us understand so many more diseases will continue since researchers may purchase these HeLa cells today from ATCC, a private non-profit biologic research center.

When I entered my clinical trial I was specifically asked whether or not I would allow my tissue to be used for research. It is not easy learning you have cancer. Being given an opportunity to possibly help other women by allowing researchers to gain a better understanding of the disease by studying your cells, that was easy.

Thank you, Henrietta.
Every Day is a Blessing! I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and read it.

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