A Few Thoughts about Ethics

Entry 7 from One Reader’s Journey through the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Before he was done, cancer researcher Chester Southam had injected HeLa cells (and other cancer-derived cells) into more than six hundred people in the name of “research”.  Half of them were cancer patients. Very few of them, except those who were incarcerated gave consent for the research. He injected cancer cells into every gynecologic surgery patient who had the misfortune of stumbling his way.  Rebecca Skloot aptly titles chapter talking about this research “illegal, immoral and deplorable”. 

Since that time grant funding agencies have study sections made up of scientific peers to review grants not only for their scientific rigor, but for their ethics as well. Research institutions have Internal Review Boards that include members from the community to approve all animal and human subjects research. And, journals have peer review and ethical standards for all research. We have come a long way, but it never hurts to remind ourselves of the past and remember the lessons. Continue reading

Sloppy Technicians and the Progress of Science

Entry 6 March 11, 2010 (from One Reader’s Journey through The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks)

Then, in 1953, a geneticist in Texas accidentally mixed the wrong liquid with HeLa and a few other cells, and it turned out to be a fortunate mistake. The chromosomes inside the cells swelled and spread out, and for the first time, scientists could see each of them clearly. —Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Okay, Ms. Skloot, no fair teasing a geneticist reader like that. Who was the scientist in Texas? What was the wrong liquid? How long did it take for the scientist to realize he had launched the entire field of cytogenetics with his mistake? This inquiring mind wants to know. Continue reading

One Reader’s Journey through The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (5)

It’s been a while since I have pre-ordered a book and waited expectantly for its arrival. Ever since reading the first reviews of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot on several Science Blogs sites, I have been itching to read this book for myself.

So, when I drove home and saw the boot prints in the snow leading to the front porch, I knew the awaited tome had finally arrived. I began my journey, guided by the able pen of Skloot, through the life of Henrietta Lacks and the incredible story of her tumor cells, first introduced to me as HeLa cells when I was a college student. At that time there was virtually no acknowledgment of the fact that these cells, a staple of cell biology research and teaching, originally came from a person, a mother, a wife, a daughter.

These blog entries will not attempt to be a review of Skloot’s book; more experienced book critics have done that and done it well. Instead, here is my reaction to the book “journaled” as I read—my thoughts and questions as a scientist, a writer, a woman, a mother, a daughter, and a member of the human race.

Entry 7 March 23, 2010 A Few Thoughts about Ethics
In A Few Thoughts about Ethics, I discuss my response to Skloot’s chapter about the work of Chester Southam.

Entry 6 March 15, 2010

Then, in 1953, a geneticist in Texas accidentally mixed the wrong liquid with HeLa and a few other cells, and it turned out to be a fortunate mistake. The chromosomes inside the cells swelled and spread out, and for the first time, scientists could see each of them clearly. —Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Okay, Ms. Skloot, no fair teasing a geneticist reader like that. Who was the scientist in Texas? What was the wrong liquid? How long did it take for the scientist to realize he had launched the entire field of cytogenetics with his mistake? This inquiring mind wants to know. Continue reading

One Reader’s Journey through the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (4)

It’s been a while since I have pre-ordered a book and waited expectantly for its arrival. Ever since reading the first reviews of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot on several Science Blogs sites, I have been itching to read this book for myself.

So, when I drove home and saw the boot prints in the snow leading to the front porch, I knew the awaited tome had finally arrived. I began my journey, guided by the able pen of Skloot, through the life of Henrietta Lacks and the incredible story of her tumor cells, first introduced to me as HeLa cells when I was a college student. At that time there was virtually no acknowledgment of the fact that these cells, a staple of cell biology research and teaching, originally came from a person, a mother, a wife, a daughter.

These blog entries will not attempt to be a review of Skloot’s book; more experienced book critics have done that and done it well. Instead, here is my reaction to the book “journaled” as I read—my thoughts and questions as a scientist, a writer, a woman, a mother, a daughter, and a member of the human race.

Entry 4 February 25, 2010

As Rebecca Skloot describes her attempts to contact the Lacks family to learn Henrietta’s story, I suddenly feel like I am reading a mystery novel. No one is talking. Skloot ends up in the same Baltimore hotel, staring at the same B-R-O-M-O-S-E-L-T-Z-E-R sign as a journalist had 23 years earlier when he contacted the Lacks family for a Rolling Stone article about Henrietta. The scene is surreal film noir, a private detective alone on the road trying to find answers to questions only to keep running into dead ends. Continue reading

One Reader’s Journey through The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (3)

It’s been a while since I have pre-ordered a book and waited expectantly for its arrival. Ever since reading the first reviews of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot on several Science Blogs sites, I have been itching to read this book for myself.

So, when I drove home and saw the boot prints in the snow leading to the front porch, I knew the awaited tome had finally arrived. I began my journey, guided by the able pen of Skloot, through the life of Henrietta Lacks and the incredible story of her tumor cells, first introduced to me as HeLa cells when I was a college student. At that time there was virtually no acknowledgment of the fact that these cells, a staple of cell biology research and teaching, originally came from a person, a mother, a wife, a daughter.

These blog entries will not attempt to be a review of Skloot’s book; more experienced book critics have done that and done it well. Instead, here is my reaction to the book “journaled” as I read—my thoughts and questions as a scientist, a writer, a woman, a mother, a daughter, and a member of the human race.

Entry 3 February 17, 2010
As I read I am struck by contrasts, and perhaps that is what Skloot intended. Continue reading

One Reader’s Journey through The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

It’s been a while since I have pre-ordered a book and waited expectantly for its arrival. Ever since reading the first reviews of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot on several Science Blogs sites, I have been itching to read this book for myself.

So, when I drove home Tuesday night and saw the boot prints in the snow leading to the front porch, I knew the awaited tome had finally arrived. And so, I began my journey, guided by the able pen of Skloot, through the life of Henrietta Lacks and the incredible story of her tumor cells, first introduced to me as HeLa cells when I was a college student. At that time there was virtually no acknowledgment of the fact that these cells, a staple of cell biology research and teaching, originally came from a person, a mother, a wife, a daughter.

These blog entries will not attempt to be a review of Skloot’s book; more experienced book critics have done that and done it well. Instead, here is my reaction to the book “journaled” as I read—my thoughts and questions as a scientist, a writer, a woman, a mother, a daughter, and a member of the human race.

Entry 2 February 8, 2010

First Point Henrietta wasn’t the only person whose tissue was taken without her consent. Continue reading

One Reader’s Journey Through The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

It’s been a while since I have pre-ordered a book and waited expectantly for its arrival. Ever since reading the first reviews of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot on several Science Blogs sites, I have been itching to read this book for myself.

So, when I drove home Tuesday night and saw the boot prints in the snow leading to the front porch, I knew the awaited tome had finally arrived. This morning I began my journey, guided by the able pen of Skloot, through the life of Henrietta Lacks and the incredible story of her tumor cells, first introduced to me as HeLa cells when I was a college student. At that time there was virtually no acknowledgment of the fact that these cells, a staple of cell biology research and teaching, originally came from a person, a mother, a wife, a daughter.

These blog entries will not attempt to be a review of Skloot’s book; more experienced book critics have done that and done it well. Instead, here is my reaction to the book “journaled” as I read—my thoughts and questions as a scientist, a writer, a woman, a mother, a daughter, and a member of the human race.

Entry 1 February 3, 2010

Several things captured my attention this morning as I read the opening pages of this book, but one stood out in particular. Continue reading