Thursday, December 30, 2010

I'm reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is about the HeLa cells and the woman they came from. I've just started it but it is really interesting.

One of the most striking parts of the story is hearing how Jim Crow laws and segregation affected medicine. Rebecca Skloot discusses sick black patients coming to a hospital and being turned away to go to a "Colored" hospital and then dying in the parking lot without ever receiving therapy. Hard for me to imagine.

Henrietta and David Lacks

The other interesting story was that of Alexis Carrel the winner of the  1912 Nobel Prize for medicine. His Nobel was for his work in creating a surgical technique for sewing blood vessels together. He is important in the HeLa story as he claimed to have created the first immortal tissue cell culture. This was embryonic chicken heart cells. The heart tissue long outlived the lifetime of the chicken and even outlived Carrel himself but the book states that Carrell faked his results by adding fresh embryonic cells periodically. The book also discredits him as a Nazi sympathizer and a eugenics proponent.

The book is good. I recommend it.
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