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How did cells taken from a poor black woman in 1951 come to unlock some of the biggest advances in science? Hope you'll join me in reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. For a really good overview go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/jun/23/henrietta-lacks-cells....

 

We'll meet online on Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 7pm EST to discuss the book. Click on http://tinyurl.com/participateMSP2 up to 30 minutes before the webinar begins.

Tags: book, cells, club, history, msp2, of, science

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This book looks great! I just ordered it on Amazon, look forward to reading and discussing it.

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Our teacher book club discussed this book back in June. I wasn't able to attend, but I got a good overview of the book by reading all the reviews on Amazon. I sent the link to some of the book club members. Hopefully, I can talk a few into joining this discussion for new perspectives.

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Great story because it is scientifically accurate and includes the social and societal influences on science and vice versa. It might not be appropriate reading level for middle school students, but if someone abridges and adapts the story (and maybe someone already has, I think NYTimes did an article on her prior to the book's pub.) it would be a great inter-disciplinary focus: social studies and science.

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From a book review at "She is too fond of books and it has addled her brain. She writes:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a wonderful work of nonfiction, an excellent blend of legal/ethical questions of who owns our cells after they leave our body (when taken with our permission, for example, for a biopsy) with the incredible story of Henrietta Lacks, whose own cancer cells multiplied so fast and so furiously that they have been used for years for scientific research and advancement. What makes the story more shocking/sad/distasteful, is the manner in which the cells were taken (without the permission or knowledge of Henrietta Lacks or her family), the curtain of secrecy that the doctors and researchers kept from the family for decades after Henrietta’s death, and the implicit racism in the entire tale (that is, the tale of Henrietta Lacks and her HeLa cells, not the tale that Skloot uncovers for us).

Take for example, the attitudes of two people who treated Henrietta Lacks when she presented at Johns Hopkins with what turned out to be cervical cancer. First, the attitude of Dr. Richard Wesley TeLinde, who, like many doctors of his time, saw indigant patients as only a collection of cells (p. 29):

Like many doctors of his era, TeLinde often used patients from the public wards for research, usually without their knowledge. Many scientists believed that since patients were treated for free in the public wards, it was fair to use them as research subjects as a form of payment. And as Howard Jones once wrote, “Hopkins, with its large indigent black population, had no dearth of clinical material.”

Contrast this with the observations of Mary, George Gey’s lab assistant, who was present at the autopsy of Henrietta Lacks. She saw that (p. 90):

Tumors the size of baseballs had nearly replaced her kidneys, bladder, ovaries, and uterus. And her other organs were so covered in small white tumors it looked as if someone has filled her with pearls. … Then Mary’s gaze fell on Henrietta’s feet, and she gasped: Henrietta’s toenails were covered in chipped bright red polish.

“When I saw those toenails,” Mary told me [Skloot] years later, “I nearly fainted. I thought, Oh jeez, she’s a real person. I started imagining her sitting in her bathroom painting those toenails, and it hit me for the first time that those cells we’d been working with all this time and sending all over the world, they came from a live woman. I’d never thought of it that way.”


Here are two perspectives - who else is involved in this story and what are their perspectives?

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I am really enjoying the book. Hope I can get online to join you all next week, whether or not I am finished!

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Please join us in either case!


Karolee Smiley said:
I am really enjoying the book. Hope I can get online to join you all next week, whether or not I am finished!

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