To The Moon and Back

The Immortal cells of Henrietta Lacks

Iconic Picture of Henrietta Lacks

HeLa cells have led to breakthroughs in the study for cures of several diseases and many other scientific studies. This cell line has been around for over 60 years and is one of the most extensively used cell lines in Biomedical science. If laid out and wrapped around the earth, these 350 million cells would go around three times with no end in site.

Henrietta Lacks, also known as HeLa, should be threaded throughout our science and history books everywhere.

Strolling through my online card catalog

One day on the path to my obsession of reading I came across a book called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. After reading the synopsis, I down loaded it to my phone. Yes, I do audio reading and I'm not ashamed to say it. Anyway, the summary caught my eye and I thought to myself, this sounds interesting but I was not at all ready for the impact this book would have on me, my life and my family.

Here is a summary of the story. Henrietta Lacks was born in Virginia and later moved to Baltimore, Maryland. One day she noticed a lump inside of her and eventually went to see the doctor. Her diagnosis was cervical cancer. The radium treatments she received were so painful and invasive she would eventually end up with burn marks on her abdomen. The way her pain was described in the book, it made me cringe as if I could feel a touch of what she was going through. Eventually Henrietta passed away because I her illness and was buried in her home town of Clover, Virginia.

But that is not the end of her story. As she was going through her treatments, George Otto Gey took a sample of her cancer cells and realized they kept growing unlike other cells he took from other patients. Without her family knowing, her tissues were being sold to other doctors and used to create treatments such as the vaccine for Polio, herpes, leukemia, influenza, hemophilia, Parkinson's disease, certain types of genetic diagnoses, cancer, AIDS, cloning, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, and in vitro fertilization. Just to name a few. Henrietta's is the first immortalized cell line and one of the most important cell lines in medical research.

At first site I almost did not check this book out because, lets just say, science was not my best subject and I didn't' want to go back to the thoughts of dissecting a frog. Any way, I skipped over it and came back to the book a few weeks later and I am so glad that I did. The Author, Rebecca Skoot did a wonderful job of combining the story of the cells, the doctors and the benefits of the cells along with the deep suffering of Henrietta and her family.

The HeLa cells have also traveled to the moon in 1962 and divided even more quickly in zero gravity. Please take the time to read this book and do a little research on Henrieta Lacks. I promise you will not be sorry.

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