The Immortal Cells Essay

893 words - 4 pages

In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, multiple cell research studies involving Henrietta’s cells are described. Author Rebecca Skloot writes about Henrietta Lacks’ journey through her cervical cancer and how her cells changed the lives of millions long after her death. Skloot relates the history of cell research, including those studies which were successful and those that were not so successful. It is necessary for the author to include the achievements and disturbing practices of scientists throughout this history to inform readers and focus on the way Henrietta’s cells were used. Truth always matters to readers and Henrietta’s family deserves the truth.
Skloot gains credibility by describing researchers who took different approaches to culturing cells. A French surgeon at the Rockefeller Institute named Alexis Carrel grew his “immortal chicken heart.” Many researchers believed it was not possible to have tissues living outside of the body, and Carrel proved them wrong by growing a sliver of chicken-heart tissue in culture successfully. Doctor George Gey was the head of tissue culture research at Johns Hopkins Hospital where Henrietta was treated for her cancer. Dr. Gey, along with his wife, had spent years trying to grow cells outside of the human body in search of the cause and cure for cancer. Most cells they tested either died or hardly grew. In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Skloot writes, “The Geys were determined to grow the first immortal human cells: a continuously dividing line of cells all descended from one original sample, cells that would constantly replenish themselves and never die” (30; ch. 3). Little did they know, they were about to grow the first immortal human cells, using cells they removed from Henrietta Lacks. Rebecca Skloot includes not only the scientists’ theories to explain how they carried out cell research, but also explicitly reveals the underlying negative actions they took in order to go through with research.
The author gives a true and honest account on the history of cell research, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. The reader comes away feeling both disturbed and reassured. Disturbed due to the unscrupulous acts of the researchers. Reassured due to the advancement in medical knowledge gained by these same researchers. Even more disturbing to the reader is the fact that Henrietta Lacks was not informed and did not give consent for the use of her cells in research. An assistant of Dr. Gey’s took part of Henrietta’s cervix without her knowledge. She cut the tissue into pieces, placed each piece into a test tube, and labeled the test tubes “HeLa.” The HeLa cells were later sent to Dr. Gey for testing. After Dr. Gey experimented and concluded that these cells were vigorously continuing to multiply, he’d realized how much his discovery...

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