Weekend Update: Cell Size and HeLa Cells

By Student Group

Photo source: Dalboz17 on Flickr

This is the first post in a new series.  Each Friday, students volunteer to submit a podcast summarizing what we did in class.  Thanks to Aurora, Deirdre, and Monica for bravely volunteering to submit the first podcast!

This week’s update discusses why cells are small, cancer cells, and the controversy over HeLa cells.

  • http://extremebiology.net/blog Ms Baker

    Btw, the radio podcast the students refer to is an incredible RadioLab segment everyone should listen to! http://www.radiolab.org/2010/may/17/henriettas-tumor/

  • Mmaugeri

    Great post, Deirdre, Monica and Aurora! I really enjoyed your podcast! It was so cool to listen to everyone speak about the labs we completed and will do this week, rather than read about it. I also liked how you guys spoke about what we did and your opinion on the lab for everyone to hear about. I think that, like the three of you said, (regarding the HeLa cells) the scientists did have some right to explore and test the cells up to a point where they made a profit on them. I don’t think that selling the cells for more research was just or fair to the family because they are still in poverty, and they had no benefit from the research whatsoever. The tests and experiments that Dr. Guy and many of his fellow scientists conducted on the HeLa cells were beneficial to the field of science (ex: HeLa cells help develop the polio vaccine, and many other accomplishments).
    I found this interesting podcast from a site called npr.org explaining the story of Henrietta Lack’s and the ethical conflict that people of today must still deal with: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123232331.

  • http://extremebiology.net/blog Ms Baker

    Let’s examine the meaning of “profit”. Did people sell HeLa cells in order to make money off of them or did they sell them in order to fund their research? Or maybe both? Science is expensive. In order to do science you need money, in some cases quite a lot. How do scientists get that money? Instead of me answering that question let’s see if anyone can come up with some ideas…

  • Anonymous

    Well, I believe that originally the scientists were distributing the HeLa cells to advance their research, and collaborate with other scientists. Dr. Guy was totally amazed and baffled when he discovered that this woman’s cells were multiplying infinitely! Therefore, it was most likely very crucial that a considerable number of scientists were studying these cells, so that together they could maybe figure out why these cells were unique. Also, at the time when Henrietta Lacks perished, or not soon after, there was a polio outbreak, and so these cells were so helpful in creating the vaccine that ended the outbreak. However, I do believe that over time, the selling and distributing of the HeLa cells became used for a profit. Today, almost anyone can purchase the cells for studying (like our class), but our studying of them is not really to advance science research, it’s more to further our understanding of cancer and chromosomes. Therefore, it seems more likely that HeLa cells are being sold to everyday people like us for a profit. So, while I do believe that it is great that these cells are open to everyone, I also believe that as the direct descendants of Henrietta Lacks, the Lacks family should be receiving some money.

  • Anonymous

    Great podcast Deirdre, Aurora, and Monica! You did a great job at explaining all about HeLa cells and voicing your personal opinions about the ethical issue involving the Lacks family. Emily, I couldn’t agree with your position on this dilemma more. As Emily mentioned, I also believe that the moral thing to do in this situation would be to give a portion of money to the Lacks family, who still cannot afford to buy healthcare, while the HeLa cells have made trillions and trillions of dollars. It is extremely sad to me that the members of the Lacks family continue to be forced to live in poverty and still lack an education, when, in fact, the HeLa cells are educating scientists and students all over the world. It would be one thing if Henrietta Lacks had given scientists permission to use her cells for the purpose of scientific study, but nothing of this sort ever occurred. Henrietta Lacks’s cells were taken without her permission or the permission of her family and the identity of Henrietta was not released to the public for a good 20 to 25 years after her cells began to be used. Recently, an organization known as the NFCC held a debate discussing this issue, as we prepare to do in our biology class. In this debate held by the NFCC, some argued that the cells did not belong to Henrietta Lacks, while others stated that the taking of her cells violated her individual rights as a human being. What do you think about this issue? Do scientists still have a chance of making things right and if so, what could scientists do to solve this issue?

    LINK: http://www.nfcc.edu/sentinel-sun

  • Anonymous

    Great posts and comments everyone! I agree with all the commenters so far. I agree with Emily when she states that the experiments and conclusions that the scientists got from Henrietta lacks cells were extremely important. I do however would like to give the second point of view mentioned in the pod cast for the debate. I do agree that the family should be included in the profit made by the cells, but I don’t believe that the scientists working with the cells have completely forgotten the Lacks family. After listening to the radio show in class, we learned that the scientists did try to reach out to Henrietta’s family. They even brought one interested daughter, Deborah Lacks, back to the lab to show her the cells that were her mothers. Ms. Baker did explain to us how this woman had a hard time understanding what the scientists were doing with the cells because she was so poorly educated, therefore the scientists couldn’t completely make her understand. The scientists tried to understand the woman who’s cells they were researching as best they could, instead of selfishly taking them all for themselves. There is only so much that they could do for the family at the time and they are working hard at the time to better the medical future.

  • Anonymous

    This week, my biology class preformed the HeLa cell experiment, too. I thought that it was amazing how fortunate we were as 9th graders to work with cell’s that once belonged to a person, Henrietta Lacks, more than 60 years ago. Lacks was the only person in the world who had cells that kept on dividing once outside the body. Today, we analyzed our results by putting the slide with the HeLa cells underneath a very powerful microscope. I was always curious to see what cells looked like, but I never got the opportunity until today. There was purple dye on the slide so that we could view the cells, because since cells are clear, you can’t see them unless they have some sort of tinted color to them. When I put my eye to the microscope, I was shocked. I was viewing many tiny purple dots that were cells!
    Even though I thought the experiment was pretty cool, I still can’t get the fact out of my head that neither Lacks nor her family knew about the amazing discovery of her HeLa cells. It was not until many years later that scientists actually told Lack’s family that they had her cells, but Lacks, herself, had already died by then. It was such a shame that her family did not understand what the scientists were saying, since they were not educated in the field of science, and the poor family thought that hundreds of Lack’s were walking around and that their very close family member was cloned. In my opinion, even though the scientists were never trained to teach people about science and even though they were on a much higher level when it came to science literacy, they still should have made the extra efforts to explain to Lack’s family what cells really were and how they are using them to advance in science.

  • Gurk_14

    Great job guys! After hearing your opinions I will like to share mine, I believe that the family should be given a part of the profits made by the HeLa cells. They are called HeLa cells are named in the honor of Henrietta Lacks, so the Lacks family has the right to get a portion of the profits. Just to tell some information we learned in class, for those who are unfamiliar, Henrietta Lacks had a malignant tumor of the cervix. At Johns Hopkins Hospital a sample of the tumor was removed and went to be examined. But what turned out to be amazing was that the cancer cells kept on growing and never died. The Lack’s family never knew about the cells until 24 years after she died, this showed how bad the medical research tried to explain it to the Lack’s family who had poor education. By giving the family some money which is their right, can be used to increase the education of the Lack’s family members.

  • Anonymous

    Wow extremely interesting pod-cast. Henrietta Lacks was the only human being in history that after she had died her cells had kept on growing, and growing. This women was like no other, her cells are still multiply today. Now this is 60 years later and they are still growing. There are so many of them that there is enough to be used in our Biology class. Today our class finished the pod cast about Henrietta Lacks and it was extremely interseting. Her family reported that there was always something special about her. Rebecca Skloot is a scientist that studied the immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. She had gathered tons of information about her and put it into oen book. The book is called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Well Rebecca knew her as HeLa. HeLa is the nickname for the cell hat Henrietaa Lacks had that is still multiplying. Still to this day scientist do not know why her cells rapidly multiply. Really great job Deirdre and Aurora and Monica

  • Stacy Caldwell

    I am a middle school science teacher and I am taking an online class about Web 2.0 and this week we are learning about blogging. I stumbled upon your blog from the Edublog Awards and I just wanted to tell you how impressed I am by what you and your students are accomplishing on this blog. I think that Aurora, Deirdre, and Monica did a great job with the podcast and I love that they explained what they learned in their own words and gave their opinions on it. I would really like to give my students the chance to do this as well. Thanks for the inspiration!!

    If you are interested in what I am learning in my online class, here is the link to my blog for the class: http://stacyspeaks.wordpress.com/

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