Reading: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

So I’d learned of this book some time ago. But I filed it way in my head and finally bought the Kindle version yesterday. I’m about three quarters of the way through the book at this point. 

First let’s state the title again “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. 

One of the things that emerged – that when they finally got around to really studying the HeLa cells they realized that Henrietta Lacks was infected by several different strains of HPV-18. And the use of her cells ultimately led directly to the HPV Vaccine. 

Now I’ve let my ideas about the HPV Vaccine out there in older posts. I feel every pre-pubescent child should receive the vaccination. A whole host of gonad diseases could be prevented. But a new thing struck me. I know there is a push back out there against the vaccine out there. A lot of it based in the view of women as inferior to men. But reading this book a new element enters into it, I bet there’s a tiny strain of racism in the push against universal HPV vaccination.

Henrietta Lacks was in fact an African American woman, and in the book it’s made apparent. 

Thing is I’m not bothered by it. We’re all human, regardless of our skin color. 

But the book is a fascinating read. Essentially Henrietta Lacks cervical cancer that ultimate killed her, it was all caused by infection with multiple HPV 18 strains. In essence her cells have been responsible for a great many things. Prime of which in my opinion is the HPV Vaccine. But it was also used to study radiation effects on human cells, polio, and used to customize cancer treatments. 

But if you take it further – the immortality of these cells also helped scientists discover the purpose of telomeres on our DNA. And every time a cell undergoes mitosis or cell division, the telomeres  on the DNA shorten. Once they get to a certain level the cells undergo apoptosis. But when cancer strikes through mutation of the DNA by viruses, or radiation or the like, a substance they call Telomerase will rebuild the telomeres of cells. Essentially causing them to become immortal. 

So in essence we may have found the fountain of youth to some degree thanks to the cells of Henrietta Lacks. 

Go get the book. It’s a fascinating read into the person and the science of tissue culturing. And ObDisclaimer – I do I.T. work for a business that is essentially a tissue culturing and DNA sequencing firm. 

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