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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Month: June 2010

Kathleen Dunn talks to Rebecca Skloot on WPR

Earlier this month on the Go Big Read Blog, we let you know that Rebecca Skloot was going to WPR with Kathleen Dunn. Dunn concentrates on the book and author in the first half, asking Skloot questions about the writing the book and her relationship with the Lacks family. Listeners then get a chance to call on so Skloot can expound on some confusing and complicated issues that arise out of story, like the relationship between minorities and medicine, the evolution and consequences of informed consent and the tricky business of donor reimbursement. Towards the end of the interview Dunn mentions Oprah is interested in making a HBO movie based on Henrietta’s life. Skloot explains that the production crew will include input Skloot and Lacks family, which is really exciting for everyone. For more brief summary of the movie news, check out Skloot’s blog, Culture Dish. Dunn’s is brief interview explores a wide range of subjects related to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks that will get anyone excited.

5 reasons Henrietta Lacks is the most important woman in medical history

According to Popular Science, Feb. 1, 2010, 276(2), p. 81. This is the sort of summary that the public is reading on “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Each item has a number of talking points in terms of HeLa cells and their role in scientific research. And as readers of the book know, the people involved in the research, and the Lacks family play as important a role in the trajectory of the story as the cells themselves.

If on campus, this takes you to the FindIt where you can get the half page of full text.

HeLa and Henrietta

Rebecca Skloot has been all over the air waves—tv and radio—talking about her recently published book and UW-Madison’s Go Big Read for 2010, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. She has been the guest on a wide range of shows, from Fresh Air with Terry Gross to the Colbert Report. Two shows, WNYC’s Radiolab and SETI’s “Are We Alone?”, talk to Rebecca Skloot about her book while looking closely at the science of the never-ending cellular production.

Radiolab’s Famous Tumors splits the focus between Henrietta the cells and Henrietta the person. While examining both the humane and scientific side of science is consistent with show’s format (I listen to the Radiolab on a regular basis), Radiolab hosts Jad Aburmad and Rober Krulwhich get a chance to include some of Skloot’s personal recordings. Rebecca plays her interviews with Henrietta’s sister and cousin as well as some emotional conversations with Deborah, Henrietta’s daughters. These recordings include first hand descriptions of Henrietta’s vibrant personality while she was alive and Deborah’s struggle with her mother’s cells surviving when Henrietta did not. In addition to the Lacks family conservations, we hear from George Gey’s assistant Mary Kubick. Dr. Gey was the doctor who was studying cells, looking for a cell line that would survive outside the body, the line that ended up being Henrietta’s. Kubick describes her astonishment at finding living cells the morning after they were taken from Henrietta’s cervix during a surgery and how it changed science. This Radiolab show is separated into three parts and Henrietta’s immortal cells are covered in the last segment but I would suggest listening to the whole podcast as it discusses cells, like Henrietta’s cancerous ones, that never stop replicating.

Are We Alone?’s “Cell! Cell!” takes deeper look into the scientific phenomenon of “immortal” or ever-replicating cells like the HeLa group (the name of line of Henrietta’s cells). This show is heavy on the science; Molly Bentley and Seth Shostak interview neurobiologist, Fred Gage and molecular/cell biologist and Randy Sheckman explain what a cell is, what makes a cell “immortal” and cells’ relationship to life. However, they do not leave out Henrietta; they interview Rebecca Skloot to discuss the impact of HeLa cells Henrietta’s family. Skloot explains that Henrietta’s family struggles with the question of whether or not Henrietta is alive. During the interview, Sheckman answers this question negatively, believing that HeLa cells are not Henrietta Lacks even though they have some of her DNA. He explains that the cancer has changed essential parts of her cells so that they are not like her normal cells. Sheckman is not the only one to see this; Deborah’s realization that all the surviving cells are cancerous helps her come to terms with the HeLa cells’ relationship to her mother. Skloot explains that visit to the John Hopkins lab did not necessarily convince the Lacks children that their mother was not still alive, but definitely clarified the connection between Henrietta’s cells and Henrietta herself.

Related books, dissertations & theses

Related books:

UW-Madison dissertations & theses:

UC Berkely’s Freshman Get DNA Kits

UC Berkely wants their freshmen to discover what they are made of, literally. The Los Angeles Times reports that Berkely is sending DNA genetic testing kits to their incoming class, about 5500 students, as part of the campus collective event. Three genes—lactose, folic acid and alcohol—will be tested and the results will be available to students online. When the students arrive to campus, there will be lectures by faculty about what the results mean and any student can get one-on-one counseling. Genetics professor Jasper Rine explains that these genes were chosen so “a student could either ignore what they learned, and be no worse off than they were before, or could use the information constructively if they choose, such as to tune their intake of dairy products.” These genes are basically harmless and the results should not be traumatic to the students.

The program, called “Bring Your Genes to Cal”, is controversial and meant to cause discussion among the different disciplines on campus but has brought unexpected outside criticism. Privacy and ethics groups have been rolling out of the wood work and asking UC Berkley to shut the program down. Since these groups are primarily concerned with the role genetic testing plays in discrimination in jobs and healthcare, they are apprehensive about Berkley’s ability to ensure the privacy of the results of these students in the future. However, biological sciences dean Dr. Mark Schlissel points out that participation in the testing is completely voluntary and the samples will be destroyed after the students receive their results. Schlissel goes on to explain the program was approved by the university’s research board that examines that research using human subject and found the program safe.

Schlissel’s arguments do little to alleviate the concerns of the Council for Responsible Genetics and Center for Genetics and Society, two of UC Berkley’s loudest critics. These groups are worried about the students’ mental welfare as well as a perceived lack of safeguards. More than one critic pointed out that students who do not want to submit their samples will feel obligated because they will feel ostracized on a campus focused on the results. Such critics, like Jeremy Gruber, are not entirely wrong; there were many negative comments on the UC Berkley’s student newspaper’s article about the program. Nevertheless, Berkley has faith in this innovative program and is going forward with their plans for the fall despite the criticism. It is apparent that this program is going to create hot conversation about the roles of medicine, research, privacy and ethics.

Wisconsin Public Radio- Skloot & Dunn-Wed. June 2nd.

On Wednesday, June 2nd, Kathleen Dunn will be interviewing Rebecca Skloot, author of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Skloot was also interviewed earlier this year, on Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know? (March 13, 2010). Skloot and Dunn will be on a little after 10:00 am. Listen in on what promises to be a lively conversation…