Analysis of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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Henrietta’s cells brought up problems in the past but have impacted medicine careers tremendously today. In the book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot, the main character Henrietta Lacks is an African woman that ends up being identified with syphilis and later cervical cancer. She also had a big tumor that looked like something her doctor had never seen before. She was raised Loretta Pleasant in Roanoke, Virginia during the year 1920. She was raised by her grandparents and grew up very poor. She was only fourteen when she gave birth to her first child whose name was Lawrence. Not long after she had Lawrence she gave birth again to a girl named Elsie.

Unfortunately Elsie was affected by Henrietta’s syphilis and came out with epilepsy and obtained the inability to communicate. Henrietta was a very diligent, giving, and kind woman who had an amazing personality and positive attitude. Henrietta soon died a very excruciating death and her cells were taken from her without her permission to be utilized for scientific experiments. As a result, many great scientific progressions have been made globally due to HeLa cells.

Researchers were able to make a variety of discoveries when working with HeLa cells. For example, one of the many researchers in the book named Leonard Hayflick recognized that normal cells only split a certain number of time before they die. In the novel it states “In 1953, a scientist messing around with the HeLa cells made an error which enabled him to see chromosomes distinctively for the first time, this eventually led to the discovery that normal human cells possess forty six chromosomes.” In 1923, Theophilus Painter who was a zoologist, published his book called The Number of Human Chromosomes where he discovered that humans have forty eight chromosomes. However, a cytogeneticist named Joe Hin Tjio duplicated Painter’s error and discovered in 1956 that humans actually have forty six chromosomes.

Also in the novel it states “Henrietta’s cells made it less harder for researchers to uncover something really significant which was only mutated cells have the potential for immortality.” It has been proven that the average amount human cells can split is between fifty and seventy times and telomeres shrink every time before the cell dies. Henrietta’s cells like everyone else’s cells have a substance called telomerase which can restore the ends of DNA strands which are called telomeres, in chromosomes. In Henrietta’s cells the cell can keep on splitting forever and never die. HeLa cells helped researchers and scientists uncover many facts about human cells which helped further people’s education in the medical field.

Scientists were able to make many technological advancements in the medical field. For example, a factory was made to produce masses of HeLa cells to assist a doctor named Jonas Salk to experiment with his polio vaccine. In the novel it states “Scientists were able to learn how to freeze cells without destroying them, this way they would be able to ship them globally much more easily.” Cryopreservation is a procedure where cells or other biological forms that are capable of being destroyed due to unsupervised chemical kinetics are protected by being cooled to very low temperatures. This procedure not only tries to achieve low temperatures without resulting in more damage from the development of ice crystals during freezing.

Also in the novel it states “Some of the manufacturing of the cells resulted in the development of specific systematized lab operations.” For example, culture medium processed food wasn’t made with the same formula until this era. Culture medium is a liquid, solid, or semi-solid made to reinforce the growth of cells, microorganisms, or small plants and certain types can be used for growing different kinds of cells. The process of manufacturing HeLa cells helped develop procedures and operations that scientists have perfected and still use to this day.

As we can see HeLa cells have benefited the world tremendously and have enabled us to become more educated in the medical field. However, during the operation of experimenting with these cells there was many ups and downs. For example, a virologist named Chester Southam was injecting hundreds of individuals with cancer without anyone’s permission or awareness. I believe this is very inhuman because he made many people sick and some ended up dying, this shows people that it was very easy to get away with something like this back then.

Also, a medical geneticist named Victor McKusick published in the journal Science, genetic data of the Lacks family without their permission and had no intention to cover their identities. Presently, this type of situation is extremely illegal and immoral, I am very glad that people aren’t allowed to do this anymore without facing any consequences. There were other events that occurred that were equally as bad but these were the main events that were related to HeLa cells. Henrietta’s daughter Deborah stated before she died that she wouldn’t mind coming back to life as HeLa cells, so she and her mother could both do good in the world. Henrietta definitely changed and helped shape our society as we know it today, due to this her legacy continues to live on.

Cite this paper

Analysis of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. (2021, Oct 31). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/analysis-of-the-immortal-life-of-henrietta-lacks/

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