Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

We are avid learners, and Sammi recently received a B.S. (Bitch of Science) from the University of Canine Learners of America (UCLA). Maggie is working on her M.B.A. (Master Bitch of Ass-smelling), she's just completing her thesis about uppity humoid dogs who don't expose their nethers to strangers. She's using her Aunt Annie as a case study.

This is Chester, the first dog to earn an MBA!

We try to keep up with the latest in Dog Science and Canine Nature, and keep our skills sharp and relevant. Several of these periodicals pointed us to the book 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' by Rebecca Skloot. We downloaded it on our mother's Kindle faster than you can say 'deoxyribonucleic acid!'

Any scientifically educated bitch is familiar with Hela cells, the first immortal cell line. In laboratory training, every student grows and kills millions of these cells in developing culturing skills. These cells are frequently used as precursors to animal and then human testing, and have been used in developing new vaccines, medications, cosmetics, cancer therapies, and more. Without Hela cells, modern science would be vastly different.

But what are Hela cells? This book takes one through the life of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman in the South in 1951 who is diagnosed with agressive cervical cancer. Tumor cells were harvested without her knowledge, and then cultivated to create Hela cells (from the first two letters of her names). The book explores race relations, the history of cell culturing, the life of a woman who's had an incredible impact on the world, and the bioethics surrounding tissue ownership.

The book did get repetitive, especially when Henrietta's descendants constantly complained about their lack of health insurance. We don't have health insurance, and we're doing just fine! Overall however, we thought it was a great read. Skloot (Ha! Humans have funny last names.) has done her research, and this book leaves you with something to think about as you chew on your phantom tail. Tail-docking is a terrible practice...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bitches, this is a really interesting post. Who would have guessed that bio research ethics and race relations would intersect in such a profoundly interesting way! My mind instantly drifted to questions of permission, compensation and full disclosure. It seems to me during that time those matters were not believed to be important. I have put this book on my 'need to read' list.

Your review also makes me wonder if the first neutered dog--I shuddered to think of it--knew what was happening to him? The gains that followed this first experiment in involuntary canine tissue donation are undeniable. For example, we now know that male neutered dogs roam 90% less and that their expressed territorial aggression falls 60%.

The obvious canine ethical dilemma this raises demands attention. To my knowledge all male dogs I know have had no say in what happens to their "donated tissue." Indeed, when it comes to being neutered they have no say at all. Despite the obvious benefits, this is outrageous behavior on the part of the humans.

I have written to Peter Singer asking him to address this ethical dilemma with humans but have not received a reply. (I understand mail takes a while to get to Australia.)

Perhaps someday in the future you will discover the story of the first emasculated male companion. I wouldn't be surprised if his name wasn't NEUtrophils the TERrier.

And to end my comment on a light note: Regarding my own position on tissue donation, it usually takes the form of a squat. In fact, I made a small donation on "the handlers" living room carpet last night. Lest he forget who really controls our home.

Your bitch always,

Sugar the Maltese