Skip to content

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, 2010

A couple of weeks ago a news or an article on Rolling Stone caught my eyes:

‘Stolen’ Cells: Henrietta Lacks’ Family Sues Biotech Company, Citing Racist Medical System

Wow, I thought to myself, the sage continues. It made me to revisit the book by Rebecca Skloot (who’s white and a science writer).

When the book was first published in 2010 I only read a few pages. This time around, I choose the audio, and the reader Cassandra Campbell (a NYT profile on her in 2020) is simply superb. Her mimicking the various accents of the characters, brings the book alive.

This book is about scientists’ drive to advance (medical research); patients’ right to their body parts (bioethics) and the market (commercialization of what scientists discovered). 

Henrietta Lacks (1920-51) was a black woman who died of cervical cancer at John’s Hopkins hospital, the only hospital in that area that treated blacks. She received treatment as public wards (free of charge). Because of this, and also at the time, seeking patient’s permission was not required, her surgeon took some of her cancerous cells and George Gey (1899-1970), a cell biologist there successfully grew it, naming HeLa. It went on to become the first human cell line in the world, been used from testing polio vaccine to research into cancer, AIDS, to gene mapping, etc. Each vial sells for $575. Yet, her descendants can hardly afford medical care. Gey was very generous to share his finding. Neither he nor Johns Hopkins profit from HeLa.

Behind each cell, lays a story. In this book, it’s primarily Henrietta Lacks’.

Author Skloot also mentioned two other cases: John Moore (filed in 1990) and Ted Slavin (chapter 25; nyt in 2006). Moore was treated by Dr. Golde, also a cancer research at UCLA. After developing Moore’s cell, Golde and UCLA patented it and then commercialized it. Lawsuit followed, verdicts went back and forth. A dicy situation: Moore believed he has a right to know and to profit, while the science community feels they’re free to research to find cure. You want to be treated or sign a hundred pages while dying?

Slavin’s doctor discover his blood has a special power to fight TB (hepatitis B). So the good doc told Slavin to sell it, to develop TB vaccine. He did and got offer from every company he called – a happy ending.

The audiobook’s cover is Oprah Winfrey who plays Henrietta Lacks’s daughter Deborah in the same name movie that came out in 2017.

There are Chinese post docs in both Lacks and Moore cases. Richard Axel won 2004 Nobel Prize in medicine, by infected HeLa cells with HIV. HeLa products sells from $100 to $10,000 a vial. 17,000 patents filed at U.S. Patent and Trademark Office involving HeLa cells.

There isn’t a good answer to this complex situation but the book is well written and engaging. It was her first book.


“被盗”细胞:Henrietta Lacks 的家人以种族主义医疗系统为由起诉生物技术公司

哇,我心里想, 战斗还在继续.这促使我重温了 Rebecca Skloot(白人,科学作家)的这本书.

这书于 2010 年首次出版时,我只看了几页.这一次,我选择了音频,读者 Cassandra Campbell(纽约时报 2020 年关于她的个人资料) 简直太棒了. 她模仿人物的各种口音,使这本书生动活波起来.

这本书是关于科学家前进的动力(医学研究); 患者对其身体部位(生物伦理)和市场(商业化科学家的发现)的权利.

Henrietta Lacks (1920-51) 是一名黑人妇女,她在约翰霍普金斯医院死于宫颈癌,约翰霍普金斯医院是该地区唯一一家治疗黑人的医院.她接受了免费治疗. 正因为如此,而且在当时,也不需要征得患者的同意,她的外科医生带走了她的一些癌细胞. 那里的细胞生物学家 George Gey (盖)(1899-1970) 成功培养了它,并命名为 HeLa.它成为世界上第一个人类细胞系,从测试脊髓灰质炎疫苗到研究癌症、艾滋病,再到基因图谱等. 然而,她的后代几乎负担不起医疗费用.盖非常慷慨地分享了他的发现.他和约翰霍普金斯大学都没有从 HeLa 中获利.

每一个细胞的背后,都有一个故事.在这本书中,主要是 Henrietta Lacks 的.

作者 Skloot 还提到了另外两个案例:John Moore和 Ted Slavin.

Moore 接受了在加州大学洛杉矶分校从事癌症研究的 Golde 博士的治疗。在开发摩尔电池后,戈尔德和加州大学洛杉矶分校为其申请了专利,然后将其商业化。诉讼接踵而至,判决来来回回.一个棘手的情况:摩尔相信他有权知道和获利,而科学界认为他们可以自由地进行研究以找到治疗方法. 您想在快死时接受治疗 还是先签署一百页?

Slavin 的医生发现他的血液具有抗击结核病(乙型肝炎)的神能力.所以这位好医生告诉 Slavin 卖掉它,开发结核病疫苗.他做到了,并得到了他致电的每家公司的邀请——一个圆满的结局.

有声读物的封面是奥普拉·温弗瑞,她在 2017 年上映的同名电影中饰演亨丽埃塔·拉克斯的女儿黛博拉.

Lacks 和 Moore的案例都有中国博士后. 理查德·阿克塞尔 (Richard Axel) 因感染了 HIV 的 HeLa 细胞而获得 2004 年诺贝尔医学奖. HeLa 产品每瓶售价从 $100到 $10,000不等. 在美国专利商标局申请的 17,000 项涉及 HeLa 细胞的专利.

对于这种复杂的情况,没有简单的答案. 但是这本书写得很好,引人入胜. 这是作者的第一本书.

Published inBlog 博客

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *