Saturday, January 22, 2011

Interesting Book ... check it out.

Just finished reading 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' by Rebecca Skloot - a N.Y. Times best seller. I first heard about the book in an interview with the author on one of NPR's 'talking head' shows. I was interested in the interview and made a note of the book because during my teaching career days, I had introduced my students to karyotyping (...examining chromosomes) by ordering "HeLa" cells from Cellserv, a biotech company in the D.C. area. Students would prep microscope slides; drop fixed "HeLa" cells from various heights to 'splat' onto microscope slides; followed by staining in an assembly line process; then zooming to 1000X under a microscope to observe and count chromosomes. They could see banding on the various shaped and sized human chromosomes; as well as count the number of chromosomes in cells.

The "Hela" cells we used in lab, were cultured from the original cells removed from Henrietta Lack when she was being treated for cervical cancer in the 'colored only' section at John Hopkins in Baltimore. She died from the cancer a few weeks later in 1951. Her cells were prolific growers under laboratory conditions and have been used in cancer research & teaching for many years. The extended Lack's family recieved virtually no explaination or recognition of the significants of this cell line that has and continues to contribute so much to our understanding of cancer, genetics, tissue culture, etc today.

After reading the story of the Lack's family, I personally was struck by the importances of good education and racial equality; two comodities readily denied the Lack's family over the decades.

It's a good, fast read and available in the Pioneer Library system.

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