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The Immortal Cell 157

Posted by michael
from the purgatory dept.
chromatin writes: "A filmmaker at a college in boston has been working on the potentially endless history of Henrietta Lacks which is a fascinating story of where biotechnology comes from and what it does. Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951, but a small sample of her cancer cells were found to live in culture dishes... and still do. As the first immortal human cell line, HeLa cells are used by researchers today for lots of experiments which whole people simply can't or shouldn't be used for. Working in labs like this with cells like this for several years, it's the first time I've heard her entire name! The Lacks family has never been compensated or really recognized by the scientific community - is this how patenting genes will work?" An odd story, that I've heard mentioned before but never knew much about.
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The Immortal Cell

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Bush administration, does this signal the start of a brain drain back towards Europe

    I don't know, but mentioning Bush and "brain drain" in the same sentence is kind of funny and strangely appropriate. ;-)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    On the other hand, is there any reason we can't make HeLa Pie ?

    Yum !

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I think the point that dr_labrat is making is, would Charlene Gilbert have been as interested in making the documentary if Henrietta Lacks had been white? I get the feeling the answer is "no" - it's not even about the issues of consent you mention.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    [Me too!] The liberal slant in the mainstream media today is terrible. The NAACP is a communist and unAmerican organization who's only goal is to create more and more and more government welfare programs. What would happen if I called a black guy 'colored'? I'd probably get shot. But they can call themselves 'colored'? Typical liberal bullshit.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @11:06PM (#2177399)
    The Lacks family has never been compensated

    That's ridiculous.

    Why is it that everything should always involve an exchange of money?! As if money has ever made the world a better place to live in...

  • by tolldog (1571) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @06:54AM (#2177400) Homepage Journal
    This just in...
    Cell phone and cigarett manufacturers are claiming ownership of any cancer cells that may potientialy be caused by use of their products. A plan for an EULA for use of the products now voids the individuals right to any cancerous cells in the body. It is unclear if the EULA is covering all cells created, both past and presant, and if they are specific to the product being used.

    When questioned, spokesmen from the companies admit that this is being used as a way to ofset research costs into creating stronger, longer living cancer cells. Although they appear to want ownership of cancerous cells, they claim no responsibility for the creation of those cells.

    Other industries are expected to jump on this compensation bandwagon soon.
  • You haven't heard the soundtrack for this movie yet either, but perhaps you'd like to go ahead and review it as well.
  • Back half a century ago when this happened it probably wouldn't have occurred to anyone in the medical community to get permission from any patient, old, young, rich, poor, male, female, black, white, red, or yellow, or to have said anything about it to the patient or their families. Perhaps if the patient had been a celebrity of some sort it might have crossed their minds to consider the PR aspects, but that's about it.
  • So if very little money was being made, then the family shouldn't be compensated, but if a lot of money is being made, then the family should be compensated? I guess your philosophy is all about the money. If the pot gets big enough, you want a cut.

    I don't think the family has to be compensated. You may be able to make an argument that the original woman could be compensated if she didn't agree to donate the cells to science. But, she is dead so there is no one left to compensate.

    Compensating the family goes against what I think compensation really means. I get compensated from my employer because I do work for them. My family doesn't get paid for the work *I* do. My family can get compensated after I die because the employer offered a benefits package that has life insurance in it. In that case, it is still compensation given to me, but I chose to have it paid after my death to my family.

    My cousin, aunt, uncle, sister, or anyone else has no right to my salary based on family relations. You have just advocated that they do have a right to my salary if I make enough and they want a cut of it.

    It is a nice emotional argument to claim that the family should get money because they are poor, but I see no philisophical or logical reason to give them any money. However, it would be good public relations to do so.

  • Err... I think the point is that the cells have been used in all sorts of biological experiments in outer-space, around the world, etc.

    I doubt (though I'm way too slack to actually read the piece) that they're talking about strapping a brace of test tubes to the nose of an ICBM, pointing at space, and then sending a shuttle a few days later to check how the cells were doing...
  • As if money has ever made the world a better place to live in...

    You don't think the money that paid for your house made the world a better place for you to live?

    How about the money that bought you your computer?

    The money that bought you that last meal? You'd enjoy the world more without food?

    Money is what changed the world so that one didn't have to work 18 hours a day merely to get food and basic shelter. Most of the sufferring in the world is due to lack of money, and those sufferring are in EXACTLY the state you'd be in if it weren't for money.

    When everybody was scratching out a meager existance and dying of old age at 30, I don't think the world was a better place, sorry.

    -
  • What if you had some superior protein in your
    DNA that could make a medicine?
    For example, the Italian families that have very
    low cholestrol.
    This issue will come up in the future.
  • And just like a "magic" packet on a real network, an "immortal" cell in a real human body is Bad News.
  • Wouldn't it bother you if someone made an exact clone of you, and then put that clone to work in the salt mines or picking cotton until he or she (because clones aren't 'it') died? How is it any different for someone to harvest cells from you and put them to work for profit well beyond their (your) natural life span? It may not be slavery of a whole person, but it's definitely slavery of parts of your body. Would it be OK with you if after you suffered brain death due to a disease, doctors re-animated your corpse with a simple microcontroller (a few years from now it could happen) and put you to work cleaning the halls at the hospital? I can't believe that more people don't see the ethical problems involved in enslaving someone's flesh like this.

    It's great that medical science can cure this woman's cancer, but it's exceedingly unethical to continue to use these cells without her permission or at least the permission of her family. It's true that they could get cells from anybody to use, and if they don't have permission from her then they should do that instead. Maybe some doctor who's a great philanthropist could donate his cells and ensure that his name is remembered forever. But Mrs. Lacks didn't ask for immortality and it's unethical to force it upon her.

  • But when you drive your Ford SUV like a sports car and it rolls over and maims your stupid ass, do you sue Ford?

    You bet :)

  • It's sad. Henrietta Lacks is a living legend who continues to live and help people even after death. I'm sure anyone would want to have the cure for polio and other diseases attributed to their name.

    Maybe you'd be willing to volunteer for immortality in a petri dish in her place, since you can make the decision and she never was given the opportunity. No matter how great the cause, you can't ethically subject a person's body to experimentation after their death without their consent. Would you mind being dug up by medical students after your death and used for studies that advanced human medicine, while you were expecting to just lie and rot in peace instead? The ends do not justify the means.

    I personally think it's disgusting to put money into this as this film-maker woman seems to want to do. We're talking about the human species here, not money or questions of racial black-white. This is much larger than trivial issues of that nature.

    I can kind of see her point - if this happened to a white woman in the 1950s, do you think the medical community would have been quite so cavalier with her cells, including keeping the information from her family for so long? Let's face it - one of the reasons that Mrs. Lack was an ideal subject was because her family was poor, black, and wouldn't kick up a fuss about any postmortem exploitation of her body.

  • Very interesting - I remember reading a book called "The Duplicated Man" by James Blish, about a colony on Venus that declared their independence from Earth. They were ruled by a huge man who was effectively immortal but slowly losing his humanity, because the secret to immortality was to effectively give all of your cells cancer and make them immortal. So his body would never die (and in fact was always growing), but his mind was another story...

    The actual story was mostly about a machine that could duplicate people (sorta), if you're wondering about the title.

  • If my foot were in such a situation, it should be up to me what happens to it. Remember, her cells aren't magically immortal; researchers have to nourish them to keep them alive. If they were still in her body or were left in the operating room, they would have long been dead by now. It's more like a person in a persistent vegetative state who needs a heart and lung machine - the body may live indefinitely, but there's no person involved anymore. In that case the person's family gets to decide when to pull the plug. In Mrs. Lack's case her body has been essentially kept on life support for fifty years, which is almost assuredly not what she or her family would have wanted. How would you like to find out that your grandmother wasn't really buried even though you thought that you had?

    It's great that her cells are special and have helped cure diseases. I'm glad that such cells can do some good in the world. But it should be up to her and her family to decide what uses those cells can be put. And if they don't want to contribute to the progress of science, that should be their choice.

  • by dr_labrat (15478)
    "...I'm an African-American woman whose ancestors survived this country's early participation in the trading, buying, and selling of human flesh - this question is of great concern to me,..."

    Riiiight....

    Its one of *those* documentaries...
  • Hate groups...? What a strange mixed up pseudo-political world you must live in.

    I simply mean that it appears not to be a science documentary, but rather one of those "personal axe to grind" movies.

  • The Lacks family - still poor and struggling to access health care - has not been compensated for the use of Henrietta's cells.

    I find it very hard to believe that people in the US can't get health care (or "struggle" to get it). If they don't have it, then it's because they haven't tried. When I was young my family had very little money, and we went to the county hospital for everything from TB to broken bones. You showed up, avoided the prisoners chained to the benches next to you, saw a doctor (who maybe didn't speak English so well), got treated and left. I don't remember any of us every whining about it or asking for any pity or using our fairly austere upbringing to lend a sad yet authoritative note to some third party's wank of a film. They removed cancer from her. You don't typically get compensation for that kind of thing. At least, people didn't used to. Now that we have socially correct, wooly-headed thinkers like Charlene Gilbert around, that might change.

    I wonder how many epidermal cells I've lost without receiving adequate compensation? Someone probably owes me cash. That air handler at Disney World stole my cells! I struggled to make those as a poor child! They traded my flesh for entertainment! I want cash! Someone make me a film about poor children! Breadwinners want their slice!

    Either that or we can start a dialog, and talk about all the issues surrounding our cultural paradigm with respect to ethical consent and the shifting mores of a society wrenched with knowing it paid for people whose cells have been also traded as so much chattel and will live on into the next century long after we're all gone but still thinking of the viable mythlike qualities of the implicable ramifications of its moral institutions...

    What a load. I want a grant too.

    -B

  • Cell wasn't immortal. Didn't Gohan take him out?

    :)
    --
  • Regular human cells can't divide for ever, the ends of the DNA get eaten away slowly each time they do. Eventualy it gets into the imporntant stuff.

    Cancer cells don't have that problem, as the ends, or telomers(sp?) are maintained. That way, you can have a huge amount of research material from just one small sample.
  • This is why the University of California (at least UCSD, ca. 1994, when I was still in the Golden State) makes researchers promise that primary cells (those isolated directly from patients) will not be retained for more than two weeks.

    --
    jvev atvf gurm rabs pern gvba

  • And of course the cost of healthcare has not risen at all since you were a child.

    --
  • by alkali (28338)
    You might want to READ the Constitution, because slavery was NOT abolished.

    "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." U.S. Const. am. 13, sec. 1. [findlaw.com]

    ???

  • I once saw a very interesting documentary about these cells. At one time other countries discovered self-multiplying cells. It turned out these cells were from Henrietta Lacks too.
    --
  • "There ought to be some way to compel him to donate the cells needed "

    Aieee, that opens up a whole new can of worms. Compeled to donate cells for cancer research, hmm seems harmless enough.
    Compeled to donate cells for "eternal youth" type research, ok thats not so bad but getting worse.
    How about compeled to donate cells for military research (ie disease resistance, strength, intelligence, etc.)

    personally i only see dangers in compelling someone to "donate" (btw donate usually connotates a voluntary action) something they dont want to.

    Personally I think an agreement along the lines of organ donor agreements of today would be the most elegant solution (noticing we dont compel people to donate organs that could save many lives even though it's no skin of their backs (figurativly)).
  • by mefus (34481)
    sole purpose is to grow to the point where it kills its host.
    Huh? Get a grip, man. Cells, tumorous or otherwise, lack any purposefulness whatsoever. They just are as you find them. These particular cells lost the ability to regulate their growth rate, so they continue to multiply. Or divide. Or something. Now I forgot what I was... Oh what's this button do?
  • I think someone's privatized your clinic, by now...
  • One might even go so far as to say... HeLa cool!

    Er, sorry it just slipped out!

    --
    Aaron Sherman (ajs@ajs.com)
  • Africa is not a country, it is a continent.

    Besides, the fact that black Africans were involved doesn't negate the wrong done by white Americans (obviously).

  • Arguing that the use of the cells was immoral because permission was not obtained is silly. People shed billions of cells everyday, from death skin, etc. Using tumourous tissue for non-profit research which may benefit all cancer sufferers and has no consequence for the patient's health or on the outcome of their treatment without permission is a perfectly moral as far as I'm concerned. If you take the extreme view that ANY form of bodily residue requires some form of legal consent before it can be used, then would you regard it as immoral to use forensic material found at a crime scene without the permission of the criminal who left it there? Cancerous tissues are usually incinerated after removal from a patient if they aren't used for research purposes - how often are people asked for permission for their surgical waste products to be incinerated after an operation? Is this a real ethical dilema, I think not . . .
  • Why should there be any compensation for the families? It is highly likely that the cell sample was taken as part of a standard biopsy as part of a monitoring/treatment program. My understanding of the HeLa line is that it is a standard cell lineage for doing oncological research by academics and is freely available to other cancer researchers at cost. Very few academics actually profit all that much from research and I dare say no one is profiting from distributing the HeLa cells. I know of a number of cases where oncologists could have patented cancer genes, but instead chose to do you right thing and gave away their rights so that the speed at which new treatments were developed was greatly increased.

    There are plenty of other people with cancer in the world, whom I'm sure would give a cancer cell sample for free if it would contribute to finding a cure.

    Cancer cells may be immortal, insofar as they don't undergo programmed cell death, but they usually continue to mutate at an incredible rate relative to healthy somatic cells - there will be a great number of genetic differences between todays HeLa cells and the original healthy host cells. It isn't as if someone's 'genes are being stolen'.

  • by Flambergius (55153) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @02:02AM (#2177429)
    I read the early comments (1+ rated anyways) with quite a bit of amazement. Almost without execption they focused, in outrage, on one sentance of the article. The outrage was naturally focused on the greedy, gimme-money-for-nothing-for-we-sue demand for payment made by ... nobody.

    The paragraph in question:


    "I'm interested in the ethical - or not so ethical - relationship between Henrietta Lacks, her family, and Johns Hopkins University," Gilbert said, noting that the Lacks story is a cautionary one with major implications today. Neither Henrietta nor the Lacks family gave permission for her cells to be used for research; in fact, the family didn't learn about the proliferation of HeLa cells until the early 1970s. The Lacks family - still poor and struggling to access health care - has not been compensated for the use of Henrietta's cells.


    I checked, although not very carefully, and it seems this is only mention of compensation in the article. It's not even a demand for compensation but a statement of a fact, although made in a way undeniably suggests that a compensation of some sort might be in order.

    Even though I agree that a demand for monitary compensation for the cells would pretty questionable, I find it hard to sympathize with those who read the article and found that particular detail the only thing worth commenting on. What about the ethical questions about, for example as there are many that could be asked, persons right to decide what happens to her body? What about funny feeling you get (well, I get at least) when you think about immortality? What about those experimental documentry techniques?

    The researchers didn't ask your Mrs. Lacks permissions to use the cells. That's wrong, but not very surpricing as this was the 50's. Lack's family didn't learn about this until the 70's, wrong too. The doctors and researchers do not have any moral right to decide what happens to a patients body, including body parts like organs and cells. Patient's rights must be paramount to doctor's.

    There is no question that HeLa cells were extremelly useful for medical research. While usefulness to a researcher does not have baring, usefulness to society does have. A patient must have the right to deny a researcher use of her cells, but I would also content that society has the right to overturn that denial. This should not be taken as a carte blanc assertion that the need of many outweight the right of few. This is a basis for a pragmatic proposal to this difficult question. I for one would feel rather silly if some poor bitter bastard, that had with a chance-mutation developed a cure for cancer, wanted to take it with him to the grave. There ought to be some way to compel him to donate the cells needed (assuming of course that it's just a few cell and not a leg or an eye). Such action should be rare and the procedure formalized, transparent and under democratic control.

    I'm far for certain that all questions involed in "commercalization of the human body" would have nice pragmatic solution. In those cases I think we will be better of going with the rights, even if other choices would present clear and useful benefits.

    --Flam

  • There's a perfectly legitimate reason that the family should be compensated for this, somebody is out there selling these to the cancer researchers either at exorbinant costs or (more likely) in extremely high quantities. seems to me that that her heirs should be getting some share of that. From the article:
    "
    In what has become a billion-dollar industry, HeLa cells have traveled around the world and been shot into space."
  • At first I thought Cell had come back to life in DBZ. The topics switching from Anime to biology are way too confusing!
  • I don't suppose that calling Henrietta's husband or parents to tell them the important role her cells were performing would have been so hard. They only found out in the 1970s. Perhaps they would have appreciated the fact that her death had meaning.
  • by camusflage (65105) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @02:18AM (#2177433)
    A leukemia patient, John Moore, endured over a dozen "treatment" sessions with his physician, David Golde. These sessions consisted of the removal of his cellular material. Turns out the University of California had worked out a deal with his physician to pay at least 1/3 of a million dollars and rights to 75k shares of stock, in exchange for exclusive access to his research. Dr. Golde even started paying for Moore's travel and accomodations. At this point, Moore became suspicious, and asked about the commerical potential of his cells. After vague answers, he withdrew consent for his cells to be used in research, causing Golde to flip out.

    Full details are here [fplc.edu].
  • I actually had a few questions that I thought weren't mentioned in the article. Please excuse my ignorance of the actual medical proceedings:

    1. Lack came from an extremely poor family, the article says. If this is the case, she probably wasn't paying for the hospital bills for cervical cancer. What was her treatment, and how much (if any) did she pay?

    2. If the hospital did provide any services for free, it seems very possible that she may have signed waivers at some point. In addition, seems like going to the hospital to have a cancer removed is pretty much relinqueshing it.

    I'm not trying to troll here, just raise a few points. Maybe she was compensated, to some extent (not necessarily enough) by free/cheap medical service. Maybe that when we go to the hospital to have something removed (like an appendix, tonsils), we do give it to the hospital. Maybe she did sign some waivers giving the hospital rights here.

    The other issue is, can we expect hospitals to ask you to sign a wavier for every urine, blood or other type of sample? You're giving up your cells to them, and, if they have anything of interest, they could very well end up in a lab without your permission!

    Please be kind.. I know I may be making a few points against a woman who should have been compensated.

  • My question is where do we draw the line between cells we should claim, and those we shouldn't. Do we claim all of our cells? If so then we waste our time on skin cells, blood from nicks and scrapes, etc., and who knows what happens in terms of search and seziure when related to using cells for DNA criminal evidence. Do we only claim living cells (like He La)? If so, then what's living? Are eggs and sperm living or does the government come up with some law about them being in a special "suspended animation" state? If a big deal were made about this issue then we could be in for our government wasting it's time worrying about this crap instead of working on worthwhile things like education and poverty... stuff that really matters.

  • If I remember the story correctly Mrs. Lacks was a black woman, in Baltimore. Hey this was the very early fifties. what did you expect!
  • This story isn't unique. People have come forward to hospitals saying "I should be dead but I've developed an honest resistence to [nasty disease]". Doctors run said person's blood and other private bodily fluids off to some lab somewhere, make patents, write papers, and get famous while the original people who were honestly trying to selflessly save the lives of others is completely left out(although these days I don't doubt that others might not be so high minded).

    I remember reading that one said person said that the money wasn't important. Its the fact that big pharma companies turned a completely selfless and charitable action into a big money, unquestionably defensable patent that irritated the hell out of him.

    Any law that make it illegal to check your body, the most private property on the face of the planet, is inherrantly wrong! Why do we continue to let these pharma companies do this? They claim "..it costs money to do gene research blah blah blah.." but neglect the fact that its stomping all over the rights of everyone out there just to make a buck.
  • You are right...its not strictly about patents but the fact that people have been using "stuff" from *other people* for "fun and profit" even though it might not be intended that way.

    That is a big ethical question in my mind that directly effects gene patents and that is what the article is about. Does US law really want parts of people to exist in perpatuity? Right now once something leaves your body who ever stores can "own" it forever.

    As for other information take a look at
    this article [feedmag.com]. Its the old story of John Moore who underwent treatment for cancer at UCLA. The doctors there found something unusual in his spleen that fought off the cancer. They took samples, made a patent, and basically made money. Moore's cells are worth a lot of money, probably worth more than any life insurance policy that Moore could get for himself. Besides he hasn't gotten much credit beyond just living.

    This article [nwsource.com] shows some anicetoded stuff. Stuff from companies rediculously overcharging just to test for a gene that causes life threatening problems(just the test...not even close to a cure) to limitations on the number of tests per year in the hopes they can get a profitable business deal out of it.

    Lets say you are a university researcher(you claim to be) and you want to do a study genes and breast cancer. Oops! You can't do that because according to Myriad Genetics, which holds a bunch of patents on genes responsible for breast cancer, they control that stuff. Heck even with express permission from Myriad a reasearch must run the test the way Myriad Genetics perscribes otherwise you risk going to court(ie. discovering a better test on their patented genes is a big no-no). How many mutations are possible on the same set of genes that may or may not cause cancer? Millions and yet Myriad Genetics controls every facet of anything to do with "genes" and "breast cancer".

    You can't do research into why there are different shades of blue eyes or why men go bald even why some people sunburn badly. Hurm...I didn't realize that we needed to defend information on why some eyes are sky blue and others are more blue green. I really do believe this approach and this insane race to patent genes will cripple research. How many projects had to be scrapped because they by accident stumbled into a gene someone patented and couldn't get or afford permission to continue work?

    I did get off topic but the core ethical questions is the same: the right of anyone to control their own biology. Does discovering the cure to everything that makes you ill really have to involve stomping on privacy?

  • From what I understand, cancer cells are by nature, effectively immortal anyway. Sort of...

    Every cell has it's own "time bomb", a set of molecules called telomeres. Each time a cell is divided, a few beads of the telomeres get cut off so that when no more beads are left, the cell merely dies instead of dividing.

    Cancer cells produce a coating that covers the telomeres called telomerase. (I think that's the word.) When covered with this, the beads don't get cut off and the full telomeres get reproduced whenever the cell divides... thus, the group of rogue cells never stops dividing. The reason that cells are designed to die after a certain period of time is so that major mutations in the DNA don't spread too far or too quickly and kill the organism.

    This is, however, uncontrolled growth. Cancer. It cannot make a normal functioning organism live forever. Besides, this wouldn't apply to certain organs such as the brain whose cells never reproduce.

    But research is currently active on studying cell mitochondria, which are apparently directly linked to aging. It goes that if you can make the cell mitochondira work forever, that your body would never age.

    IANABiologist, so any of the above is not guaranteed to be accurate and might be plain wrong. I'd love to hear some input from someone who actually studies the science.
  • I agree that the family should receive something if this discovery ever makes money.

    This case isn't as simple as the one you posited, where the money is in the bank (well, somebody's bank) even before the sample is obtained.

    To make your analogy fit this case, it would be more like this:
    The State Barber Association finds a problem w/ cutting certain types of hair and needs to find clippings to see why it is so difficult to cut this hair. Your barber looks through piles of hair and finds your hair matches. They study your hair and gain a better understanding of how to cut your type of hair. Now, maybe barbers make a little more money from people helped out by this technique as their haircuts come out much better than they did before. It would be very hard to prove how much money they got, though.

    &lttongue_in_cheek> As far as your assertion that you own every cell that originated from your body, I forsee many more problems w/ this than the problems you suggest. Imagine one day your are fined for improper disposal of bodily material when your skin and hair fall off your body and contaminate offices, restaurants, chip fabrication plants, etc.. We need to pay people to clean up this mess or spend the time ourselves to clean this up. When you start paying your bills, then we'll talk about residuals.. &lt/tongue_in_cheek>
  • Okay, forget compensation for a second. The question is whether or not a person or their heirs have rights to a person's corpse and can determine what is done with it. Focus on the moral aspect of a person's body as their property, the terms of treatment and disposal they can dictate. Imagine if, after Princess Di's death someone took egg cells from her Uterus and started selling them ( or giving them away ). A similar incident actually happened in England, where people's corpses were being sold by Doctors. The point is that doctors cannot assume ownership of a person's extracted tissue. They are just it's caretakers

  • She is immortal and she has never even met Conor McCloud from the Clan McCloud ;-)
    Of course she did. How do you think she died?

  • That is surprising, considering hair is made of dead cells [exploratorium.edu]. Not only were they kept alive for so long, but apparently the shaft of his hair was still alive on his head.

    It's more likely that you can do this test on dead hair cells. Most other forensics work fine on lay people's hair, which is made up of dead cells.

  • My bad. I realize now that you were objecting to the fact that only now does cellular matter become property. Your original post really looked like you were objecting to the fact that only now do cells survive outside of the body. Mostly from the choice of words like "I know a number of locks of his hair have survived to the present day" (you are using survived in a different sense than the block you quoted), and then later "medically useful living cells" vs souvenirs looked like the disctinction was that these were "medically useful" not "medically useful and living".

    Now that I understand your post, I was going to speak to it. But then I realized that it just has a question in it (as does your response to me). I don't have the answers to these questions. I think it's certainly possible that the same marketplace economics should be applied to the medically useful cells as the souveniers, but that the two are in different situations. If we could somehow revive Napoleon's cells and then cause them to reproduce, then I really don't see why the marketplace economics should be different. But since we haven't done that with Napoleon's cells, we're going to have to use these ones on their own to determine the rights involved. Then later, when we can revive Napoleon's cells, we can apply the marketplace economics we've established here.

  • by nido (102070) <nido56NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Thursday August 02, 2001 @07:01AM (#2177445) Homepage
    Cancer cells may be immortal, insofar as they don't undergo programmed cell death

    Regular cells may be immortal too:

    An experiment which lasted 29 years was to unveil something quite remarkable, something which could have important significance on the life span of man in the future. Dr Alexis Carrell of the Rockerfeller Institute for Medical Research, took small samples of heart tissue from a chicken embryo and immersed them in a solution from which they obtained all the necessary nutrients. As the cells took up the nutrient rich broth, they also excreted their metabolic wastes into the same solution. Each day, the old solution was discarded and replaced with fresh broth. This chicken heart tissue lived for 29 years, only dying when the assistant forgot to change the polluted fluid. (note: when I first heard about this ... "study", they said the cells had died when the project was discontinued, 'csuse the figured they could keep them alive forever.) Commenting, Dr. Carrell said:

    "The cell is immortal. It is merely the fluid in which it floats which degenerates. Renew this fluid at intervals, give the cell something on which to feed and, so far as we know, the pulsation of life may go on forever..."

    Google search for "immortal chicken cell" [google.com]

    So if you could find a way to quickly & effectively remove remove all wastes from the fluid surrounding your cells every day, and replace that with fresh nutrients (more than those found in the typical refined fare), maybe you wouldn't have to fall victim to "programmed cell death", or at least not so soon. (hey, it's just a possibility, and a remote one at that, everyone still dies eventually)

    Cameron: May I assume you're imagining longer, healthier lives?
    Harman: Absolutely. The fact is, if you get sick at 65, you're going to be sick for a long time. But if you're healthy and productive well into your 90s and you get sick at, say, 95 or 100, at that age the body cannot tolerate trauma. You die quickly. With the kind of longevity I'm postulating, society gets the benefit of many more years of experience from the elderly (65 and older) and oldest old (85 and older) without the old being a burden on society. Mother Nature did not mean for us to live forever, but that does not mean we should not try to increase our functional life span. In the ideal scenario one would live a long, active, useful life, then die quickly.

    A report on Superhealth [buildfreedom.com]

    ---


  • Without going into unnecessary detail, basically it is because the cell gathers several mutations, which screw up certain controls on the cell cycle. Thus the cell is eternaly in the 'growth phase'

    To put it into somewhat geeky techno speak, these cells are equivalent to "magic" packets on a network with an infinite TTL. Just in case anyone couldn't understand what he said. Oh, and to use the word "equivalent."

  • I remember reading about another lineage of cells in a book. They were called TEHE cells (I think), and they were also removed form a cancer patient. If I remember rightly they were also very...how shall I put it...virrulent. Cell cultures that were kept in the same room as them were overtaken by them. They even corrupted some government tissue bank's "pristine" cell cultures. I searched google but couldn't find anything (except a lot of mis-spellings of "the" and "laughter - tehe - get it!"). The story of these cells and the HELA cells is very interesting. Is there anyone out there who can confirm this fading memory? I can't even remember what book I read it in.
  • While I listen to Jay Severin, too, the name "People's Republic of Cambridge" predates Jay.

    What I find humorous is that a Google Search [google.com] of that phrase returns the official City of Cambridge [cambridge.ma.us] website as the first match.

  • You see the title "The Immortal Cell" and you think that you're going to get an interview with Gohan, Goku, and the oh-so-mighty Hercule.
  • Hey, if you want to make an omelette, you gotta break some eggs.
  • Actually, giving Henrietta some credit would probably be a good start. I was a bio major and did biochem research in the old days, and we talked about HeLa cells in several situations and every time I got a different, usually wrong explanation, of the name - 'Helen Lane', 'Helen Latham', etc. In science, credit is more important than cash in many ways. That's why there is usually am 'Acknowledgements' section at the end of papers, in addition to the actual references. For that matter, when I took and TA'd Gross Anatomy we knew the names of the people we dissected. It certainly would not have killed the National Academy of Sciences or the NSF to write a letter to the Lacks family to let them know that while they have lost a loved one, she is helping others.
  • There are plenty of other people with cancer in the world, whom I'm sure would give a cancer cell sample for free if it would contribute to finding a cure.

    As one of these people, I would be happy to know that my right nut was being used to research a cure for cancer. I wonder if the cells need to be of a certain type of cancer (ie, seminoma, non-seminoma, terratoma, etc.) to be HeLa cells.
  • What about acknowledgement?

    Ethical use of humans and human tissues in scientific experiments is generally considered to require anonymity for the subject. Otherwise, an awful lot of supposedly confidential medical information about specific individuals would be published. Maybe, 40 years later, it's not entirely relevant that Mrs Lacks had cervical cancer, but I'm sure I wouldn't want the world to know if I were taking an experimental AIDS treatment, for example.

  • these cells dont really care about telomeres anymore. They dont need telomerase, they gain telomeres by recombining with other cromosomes.
  • And why would ending aging be good?
  • welllll ....
    Who is making money off these cells? I know the piece this story links to is a bit confusing, but I can assure you that there's no-one out there making money off the cells. As someone pointed out, they are available by the ATCC (American Type Culture Collection) for $167. This is not a lucrative business, I would assume it about covers their costs of storing the cells and administrative efforts.
    Also, when you (as a researcher) buy a vial of these cells, you can make your own stocks. Indeed, probably, you wouldn't even have to order them, somebody in your institute probably has a stock she's willing to share.
    Invaluable research tool - yes
    Lucrative business - definitely not(so far at least)
  • And even if it's just little money, the main issue is that something is being sold and someone other than the original owner is making money from it.
    Hmmm ... I think there is something here that is hard to define. From the cells themselves, I can't believe much money has been made. They are available at self-cost from repositories, e.g. ATCC, or even for free if someone in your institute has a stock ... As such, the (monetary) value of the cells is negligible.

    Of course, there is the other issue, which is: How many novel findings have been made with these cells, could they have been obtained without them, and has any of these findings produced something with commercial value.

    This is always an issue with basic research, in itself it generates nothing of commercial value, but the insights might lead to an idea for an anti-cancer drug or whatever. Now, where do you draw the line? Can you really still directly attribute a new drug to the very HeLa cells, with which somebody did some research maybe twenty years before, not related to that drug discovery (the time-to-market for novel drugs is somewhere between 15 and 25 years)

    I think there is another point that gets lost when you read the original article: While HeLa cells were the first immortalized cell line, there are many others now on the market, so the cells are not quite as unique as the article makes you believe.

    (...)but I still think it's sad that Henrietta Lacks' contribution was never recognized and someone else got the glory.
    Well, in the biology crowd, the name Henrietta Lacks certainly is known, even though her story is often told as an anecdote. But more recognition in the public would be certainly nice. On a side note, since then, researchers have agreed not to name derived cell lines after the patients they were obtained from (as in HeLa). This was decided on in an effort to keep the cells name separate from any individuum, for whatever that's worth ...

  • OK, thanks for you detailed reply! I would like to take the discussion further by commenting on some of it .... hope you don't mind

    You are right...its not strictly about patents but the fact that people have been using "stuff" from *other people* for "fun and profit" even though it might not be intended that way.

    I agree. I am very much against gene patents, in the least since there is no invention behind it. In my mind, a patent must have an invention behind it (OK, not necessarily true in US patent law, I know). After all, that's what is the essence of it, not a discovery, but an invention ... not chance, but skills.

    At the same time, I think, however, that in the same line of reasoning, you don't hold the rights to your own genetic material. You didn't invent it, if anybody, it should be your parents and their decision to have sex at a specific time, chosing a specific pair of egg and sperm, which before had undergone genetic recombination in a certain way. Since you can hardly influence that, your DNA IMHO is not your intellectual property. They (the researchers) shouldn't own the rights, in the same way, you can't hold the rights. They should be public is what I am trying to say.

    And considering the Moore story, I have read about that, too. And I don't like at all what happened there. But it's like everywhere in life, there are morally bad researchers and better ones. So I think we have to look at these stories put into a larger perspective, and in that way, we are not faring all too bad.

    This article shows some anicetoded stuff. Stuff from companies rediculously overcharging just to test for a gene that causes life threatening problems(just the test...not even close to a cure) to limitations on the number of tests per year in the hopes they can get a profitable business deal out of it.

    Lets say you are a university researcher(you claim to be) and you want to do a study genes and breast cancer. Oops! You can't do that because according to Myriad Genetics, which holds a bunch of patents on genes responsible for breast cancer, they control that stuff.

    Oops, too, that is not true. You are allowed to do as much research as you like. You are not allowed to commercialize your results without a license from Myriad, however. But using the patented genes for studies or truncation assays or or or is perfectly legal in academic research (to my state of knowledge) There are plenty of academic research projects on BRCA1 (the gene Myriad patented), just have a look on PubMed [nih.gov] for BRCA1.

    How many projects had to be scrapped because they by accident stumbled into a gene someone patented and couldn't get or afford permission to continue work?

    Again, none if you do research for the sake of gaining knowledge. If you want to start a company on your findings, then, yes, time to change projects ... But I think the ethical debate we're having is about research itself, no?

    I hope I contributed something informative, and not just flamebait :)

  • I am sorry, but thanks for playing!

    This story is _not_ about patents, not at all.

    People have come forward to hospitals saying "I should be dead but I've developed an honest resistence to [nasty disease]". Doctors run said person's blood and other private bodily fluids off to some lab somewhere, make patents, write papers, and get famous while the original people who were honestly trying to selflessly save the lives of others is completely left out(...).

    Could you please back this up with some actual information, i.e. facts?

    Any law that make it illegal to check your body, the most private property on the face of the planet, is inherrantly wrong! Why do we continue to let these pharma companies do this? They claim "..it costs money to do gene research blah blah blah.."

    What law are you talking about?

    And actually, while I see your point somewhat, don't forget that the development of a new drug takes 15-20 years, involves a lot of researchers (who expect a paycheck), expensive instruments, reagents, incredibly expensive clinical studies. The pharma company expends all of this in advance, and when a drug gets on the market, they'll have only a few years before the drug can be legally copied. And they want some return on investment. This is what makes drugs so expensive.

    You might think that the big work is done when your person walks in to the doctor with her strange resistance, but it's not ... It's just the beginning of a multi-year/multi-million dollar process.

    disclaimer: I am a university biologist, not connected with industry in any way

  • Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951, but a small sample of her cancer cells were found to live in culture dishes... w00 h00! More proof that Linux will live forever :-)
  • I'd like to know where you get your estimates. ATCC will sell you a vial of HeLa cells for $167. The NCI will ship cells to researchers for what is estimated to be just under cost and that fee is $150. A lab usually needs only one sample and they can grow out as many cells as they want for as long as they want. I'd be surprised if there are more than a few dozen orders for HeLa cells per year and there certainly aren't thousands of orders. Add to that the fact that HeLa is just one of ~700 human tumor cell lines ATCC will ship you and I just can't see how you get to HeLa cells being a big money maker. If you know someone making millions, let alone billions on HeLa cells, I'd sure like to see some hard data.
  • A cancerous tumor continues to live. Umm, ok. I wouldn't exactly call that a human being, or really even a human cell. Its something that is the result of an abberation in human anotomy thats sole purpose is to grow to the point where it kills its host. But apparently, the caner doesn't really care, as it can live on! Well shit, no I need to be turned into some sort of cancer, of course if you ask anyone who knows me, I already am. :)

  • So, all those people who have donated their time, money and bodies to science knowing full well they will never get a dime for it, are okay but this person seems to require compensation?

    Whatever happened to 'for the greater good' that the left keeps telling us about? Oh, that's only when they want to take rights away from 'the people.' I forgot.

    DanH
    Cav Pilot's Reference Page [cavalrypilot.com]
  • The cells having been removed at one time
    from an actual human does not imply the cells
    which have propagated are actually a part
    of that same human. Remember you shed skin
    cells by the dozens, loose hairs, etc. every
    day again. And cells alone do not make a human.

    The actual work done is _not_ by the human which
    has donated/been ripped off its cells, but by
    the researchers or analysts. This is
    completely different from slave labour where
    the work done _was_ in fact by these people being
    sold

    Bottom line: the donor did not add anything
    substantial to the cells being propagated
    apart from having it abstracted for her own
    benifit (getting medical care) and thus
    does not have right to any compensation.

    The case of patenting genes is of a completely
    different order. Here research is not rewarded
    its "just" compensation through a patent,
    but is effectively all FUTURE research being killed off.

    This last fact can e.g. prohibit finding a cure
    for a disease simply because it involves the
    malfunction of a patented gene, and the patentees
    do not find it cost-effective to do the research
    themselves.

    Regards,

  • Err... I think the point is that the cells have been used in all sorts of biological experiments in outer-space, around the world, etc.

    Exactly. I've also read that they've been known to replace other cultures acting as accidental contaminants because they are so hardy and aggressive to the point of causing serious problems for researchers because they end up unknowingly working with something different than what they're supposed to be working with. I remember that a book was written about these cultures quite a few years ago (the book title I remember is probably A Conspiracy of Cells [amazon.com] ).

  • Regular cells are *not* immortal. The experiment you mention has been discredited for years because someone proved that the "nutrient broth" that the guy was using to feed his chicken cells contained chicken cells, so he was continually reseeding his culture dishes with new cells. Apparently the problem was a faulty centrifuge in his lab.

    This study spawned all kinds of quackery by claiming (in part) that if you just led a clean enough lifestyle that you would could live forever, which is bullshit. Normal cells isolated from tissue are not immortal- they can usually only be passaged a certain number of times before they stop growing.

  • Ok. I just checked with the ATCC (www.atcc.org)and HeLa cells are selling for $167.00 (http://phage.atcc.org/cgi-bin/searchengine/longvi ew.cgi?view=ce,28375,CCL-2&text=hela).

    As for some of your other questions, other cancer cells *are* immortal and will replicate endlessly. Also, regular cells can be immortalized by fusing them with cancer cells (=hybridoma) or by infecting them with a virus.

  • "IIRC, they even *look* special, growths of HeLa look like netting with PERLS strung on it, which is apparently rather unusual (disclaimer: IANABiologist)."

    With a typo like that, I wonder what you are?
  • Gimme a break...has Lambert BEEN in a decent movie since the original Highlander?

    Well, there's some Luc Besson movie I wanna see with him in it, but not till I get back to the states and can see it with ENGLISH subtitles.

    Never heard of Mean Guns, though...is it better than Avalon?
  • My opinion on this topic is: since genetic material is, by its nature, not unique, it should not be possible to patent it. Therefore, the family should not receive anything, however it should also be obligatory for the researchers to put the results of their investigation into public domain. As of any future developments using that genetic material, any company should be allowed to use this material for the manufacturing of drugs.

    Genetic material is in most cases not unique. Therefore it will not be just to allow the grabbing of discoveries by someone who was simply the first to spot some phenomenon. Genetics contain enormous goods and evils for the whole of humanity, therefore the custody over it should also be common.

    As of the economic issue, I am aware that research costs money; however big biotech companies can just as well finance their research labs as they do now, since practical use of genetic technologies also calls for considerable investments, decreasing the possibilities of parasitical competition.

  • (It shouldn't matter, but a white male speaking)

    A hair dye company is having great trouble finding a particular shade of brownish blondish hair. They offer a $100 million dollar bounty to the State Barber Association for a sample of this exact hair color.

    Turns out it's your exact hair color. Your barber takes your hair clippings and retires forever. You don't find out until after the fact.

    Tell me how many milliseconds would go by before you would be on the phone to a lawyer.

    If anyone owns anything, you own your own body. You own every piece of it, every hair, every cell, every little bit of it. Ms. Lacks give a part of her body so her physician could try to cure her disease, a service she presumably paid for.

    She did not authorize this. She did not LICENSE this use of her tissues. If you're going to be a capitalist, then don't be a hypocrite. This was, quite simply, a theft of Ms. Lacks' property. She deserves compensation.

  • For about 5 billion years, the same single cell that spawned on this planet has been splitting and mutating into the many varieties we see today. As the only species on the planet capable of understanding this, it is our duty to make sure we don't screw it up, making that cell's long struggle a complete wasted. In a sense, that cell, and thus humanity, is this planet's attempt at reaching beyond its primitive boundaries and propagating further through the universe. We are nothing more than a stage in a process of macro-panspermia. If we don't destroy ourselves, we'll be able to coat the universe with all sorts of life, moving that immortal cell onward to other worlds.

  • The outrage was naturally focused on the greedy, gimme-money-for-nothing-for-we-sue demand for payment made by ... nobody.

    The issue of compensation goes to the heart of the ethical issue. It points up the difficulty of applying legal principles of ownership in situations that were completely unanticipated in framing the principles.

    For instance, under the The Three Stooges principle [threestooges.com], the Lack family might have a claim unless the users of the cells transformed them so that they were deriving benefit from the result rather than the original cells.

    If conventional property rights to do not apply to cells, then what rights do apply? If the cells are not the property of the individual, what other parts of the body are not the property of the individual? If the cells have value, who has claim on that value?

    The issues did not arise in the past because cells, unlike property, did not survive outside the body. Now that they do, all cellular matter inadvertently takes on the attributes of property.

    If you argue that cells are not property for legal purposes but something new, you might have to define a new right in the U.S. Constitution that resembles the 5th Amendment [cornell.edu] that says no one shall be "deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law."

    Such an amendment might say "No person shall be deprived of cellular matter, limbs, organs or bodily fluids without due process of law. The rights attached to cellular matter shall not apply to any material derived, decended or cloned from said cellular matter. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

  • Technically, the cells aren't immortal. An individual cell is just as likely to die as any other cell on Earth. However, since they are essentially single celled organisms now, these human cells can divide and spread to any habitable location. Assuming a low rate of mutation (characteristic of human mitosis), this cell line could live a very, very long time. Since humans usually only live about 85 years on average (and then all our cells die), that's why they're calling them immortal.
  • by Ssolstice (198935) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @07:18AM (#2177481)
    It's not just that these cells are living in a petri dish, or that she had cancer. The intro doesn't mention it, but HeLa cells have the ability to live in a wide variety of situations. The original lab realized that the cells were contaminating everything, because the cells were living outside the petri dishes (on people's hands, on desktops, etc). This is the first case of human tissue being able to survive away from the body, without the support of the circulatory system, immune system, or anything.

    It sounds like everyone is falling into the whole copyright debate, rather than realizing the importance of the cells themselves.
  • by bbh (210459) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @01:28AM (#2177485)
    Here is a little further information about Henrietta Lacks and George Gey. The Henrietta Lacks article is from John Hopkins Magazine and the Gey article is from a University of Pittsburgh article. The Gey article gives a littl more info about his attempts at setting up cell lines and his life, etc.. The Lacks article talks about the family, how they first found out 25 years later that there mothers cells were used and ethical issues, etc..

    http://www.univ-relations.pitt.edu/pittmag/culture .html [pitt.edu]

    http://www.jhu.edu/%7ejhumag/0400web/01.html [jhu.edu]

  • by onco_p53 (231322) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @12:25AM (#2177489) Homepage Journal
    Obviously YANAB

    We do know why cells like these and other immortal cell lines live forever.

    Without going into unnecessary detail, basically it is because the cell gathers several mutations, which screw up certain controls on the cell cycle. Thus the cell is eternaly in the 'growth phase'

    For those of you who hunger for more info:

    http://www.ndsu.nodak.edu/instruct/mcclean/plsc431 /cellcycle/cellcycl1.htm


  • by hyrdra (260687) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @05:44AM (#2177502) Homepage Journal
    See:

    http://phage.atcc.org/cgi-bin/searchengine/directd etail.cgi?collection=ce&atccNum=CCL-2 [atcc.org]

    Only $167.00.

    Could it be that this woman is the single largest human in the world with millions of her reproducing cells, even being sold on the Internet?
    • "...I'm an African-American woman whose ancestors survived this country's early participation in the trading, buying, and selling of human flesh - this question is of great concern to me,..."

    Perhaps by "this" country she means Africa and not the USA? Or are we now pretending that black Africans didn't supply the slave trade?

    • Africa is not a country, it is a continent.

    Gee whizz, really? So is America. Two, even. The original quote was "African-American". If the author has specified from which part of Africa her ancestors were abducted, I would have used that.

    • Besides, the fact that black Africans were involved doesn't negate the wrong done by white Americans (obviously).

    Besides what? If that's your only point, why bother making it if it's so obvious? I neither said nor implied that.

    Don't get me wrong, slavery is appaling. But anyone who's griping about being descended from slaves, even by one generation, is looking for special treatment for themselves and nothing more.

    So, your great grandparents were taken from Africa against their will. That's horrific - for them. But now you want compensation and special treatment for what happened to them, but you don't want to go back to Africa (no matter how bad your situation in the USA)? Cry me a river.

    I'm not buying it. Yes, we have a society of haves and have nots, of opportunity and deprivation, and yes, it's based on a large part on ancestry and skin tone. But you fix that by addressing the situation today, without making futile attempts to fix the past.

  • The issues did not arise in the past because cells, unlike property, did not survive outside the body. Now that they do, all cellular matter inadvertently takes on the attributes of property.

    That is not, strictly speaking, true. Famous people, like Napoleon Bonaparte, used to snip off locks of their hair, to give to their loved ones, fans, well-wishers, and those who had done them favours. I know a number of locks of his hair have survived to the present day, because researchers were able to subject them to modern forensic tests to prove that he was the victim of chronic Arsenic poisoning.

    Should the same marketplace economics be applied to medically useful living cells as to these souvenirs?

    FWIW, IIRC, a number of people who had access to his body took the opportunity to snip additional locks of hair.

  • This is not the first case like this I have heard about. There is an excellent, long-running science show on the radio up here in Canada, called "Quirks and Quarks", that covered a similar story about fifteen years ago. The patient in that case had had a biopsy, and one of the doctors involved had decided that he had cells that had some useful, saleable property.

    As in this case, the doctor didn't ask anyone's permission. However, this patient hadn't died. He was still alive and kicking, and when he found out he was angry. He sued for a cut. I'd like to know how the case was resolved.

    Unlike the case of this woman, the biopsy was not taken in the fifties. It would have been the late seventies or early to mid eighties.

  • If conventional property rights to do not apply to cells, then what rights do apply? [...] Such an amendment might say "No person shall be deprived of cellular matter, limbs, organs or bodily fluids without due process of law.

    You should have a limited right to refuse to have the sample taken. You should have a limited right to demand that the sample be destroyed after the necessary diagnostic procedures have been carried out. (Limitations in both cases are conflicts with public health needs.)

    But the government has a compelling interest to see that there is no market in selling bits and pieces of your body. Hence, you should not be able to demand money for cells derived from your body. Either you give them away freely, or you don't, but you can't charge for them.

    This restriction is not to limit your rights, it is to protect you and everybody else from the economic pressures that they would otherwise be subject to. Because if you can sell parts of your body, companies will figure out how to compel you to financially and contractually, and you would have no choice at all anymore.

  • I agree. Actually, the way I feel it should work is this:
    • The Lacks family should be happy and proud that a member of their family was able to give something that has saved countless others. They should not expect compensation.
    • Those researchers (and their institutions) who benefited from HeLa cells should be going out of their way to financially compensate the the Lacks family.

    Get it? Each has a role. Each should be willing to give and not expecting to "get." Anybody agree?

    GreyPoopon
    --

  • I dont know about anyone else, but I'd love the idea of a part of me 'living on' far into the future for the sake of science.

    The only thing I'd be worried about is people laughing at the state of my DNA in 10 years time... :)
  • by 5KindsOfSalmon (414627) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @01:41AM (#2177518)
    I don't know, I think the filmmaker's being forthright about her motivations and interest is admirable, and I do agree that it sounds pretty bad to dismiss the work of a filmmaker who says that her thinking about racism in America informs a historical documentary she's working on as "one of *those* documentaries," as you did.

    I'll grant you that the analogy between use of tissue samples and slavery is a bit strained, but if you'd read the f'n article, you'd have seen that this particular filmmaker is coming at this from a lot of interesting angles, and is just as open about the relevance of her personal experiences to them. For example, she talks about the parallel questions of consent vs. furthering the public interest that arise in the making of documentaries, and also discusses her interest in exploring the 'mythic' side of the immortal cell line story.

    Racism exists (even in Science!!) and by blowing off any discussion of its role in historical developments as 'axe-grinding' you open yourself up to the kind of accusation/questioning you've seen here. I don't think this sort of response is P.C. gone out of control, if I may pre-emptively respond to what I suspect your response to this post might be, but rather a reminder to keep the squelch turned up a little higher up on your own personal bullshit detector, lest you become (or appear) truly insensitive to the important and real concerns and insights of others.

    Furthermore, as a trained 'historian of science' (I won't tell you which college in Boston it's from), I find your sanctification of the "science documentary" amusing. It's a seedy, complicated world, and while I enjoy the cut-and-dried 19th-century rivalry-driven PBS train-bridge-construction documentary genre as much as the next guy, I certainly also appreciate a historian who's not afraid to dig a little deeper.
  • I wonderif the Lacks family being compensatedfor the benefits from HeLa cell research woul open themselves up for further compensation claims for thenumerous researches that were ruined when HeLa cells infected other cultures?
  • Nope
    The cells are sent around for free.
    It's the technology around it that is the industry. If the family starts whining they'll just take cells from somebody else. It's not like this woman is very special. She just happened to be around when a scientist needed a cell culture. He could have taken them from anyone.
    It's a multi-billion dollar industry because scientist work with these cells, and those scientist have to be paid (GNU's not University). That's where the mony is going. NOBODY is paying royalties to the scientist who happened to isolate these cells. You pay royalties to people to studied the cells (which costs money) and found an application with these cells.
    tsk.
  • by Ubi_UK (451829) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @11:41PM (#2177525)
    compensating the family?? for WHAT?
    They've taken cells out of the body to check for cancer, as they do with all cancer patients. Only difference is that they kept propagating the cells. WHY do we have to pay the family of this woman? Did they suffer in any way from this???

    If I die of cancer, and scientist manage to use my cells after my death to study and cure other cancer patients, that is more compensation then I could hope for!

    also: this had *nothing* to do with patenting genes! That line is just added to create some extra hysteria among the masses who just do not understand how all this biotecho goes.

  • The way copyright law works, someone who produces a work gets automatic protection of that work. Though IANAL, I wonder if her estate could claim that the genes from her cells are a copyrighted work.

  • I believe the authors of this HeLa product would have to be her parents,

    I disagree. Her parents may have provided the raw materials, however they did not create the work. No more than the person(s) who sold Picasso his paint and canvas created any of his work.

    Her parents were the donors of the raw materials, however it was the RNA and DNA in her cells that did all of the work.
  • by Saggi (462624) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @12:28AM (#2177532) Homepage
    Stupid! Where do your own cells come from? You parents, right. But they don't own you. And even the cell's we could claim to be ours, we throw away. When a hospital perform an operation (like removing a leg or something) do we then order then to take the part with us back home to put on a shelve? Of cause we don't. And in out daily lives our body reject lots of dead and living cells. If we cut our finger, should we claim the blood?

    The whole idea of owning cells or bodyparts is very scary to me. Why have people become so obsessed by owning every thing from ideas to cells? It appears that if someone in any way can make money from someone else (often with the help of lawyers) they should. What is the world coming to?

    Compensate? Anyone looked that word up in a dictionary. I don't hope my family need to be compensated for being relatives to me...

    As for the cells themselves, I find that story much more interesting. Science studies into cells like these will provide us all with knowledge to cure diseases and even prolong life. This story have potential of both scientific information as well as ethical issues, way beyond if someone should be compensated economically, because they are a relative to someone.

    Saggi
  • The way copyright law works, someone who produces a work gets automatic protection of that work.

    I believe the authors of this HeLa product would have to be her parents, and the date of creation of this product would be birthdate minus approximately 0.75 years. That would place the creation date at the turn of the century, that other century. That means that the pre-1928 copyright laws would apply, but the 1978 changes would allow the copyright to exist from the death of the creator or copyright holder plus 75 years. So if you know when her parents died, there could possibly be a copyright issue. But I don't think so.

  • by Giant Hairy Spider (467310) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @12:21AM (#2177537)
    I don't believe that her family should be compensated for the use of her tissue sample, but I object to the "filthy money" reasoning.

    Money is the reason grocer bothers stocking the shelves you buy from, and the reason the farmer bothers growing a thousand times more food than his family can eat. Money is the bond that holds ten thousand individuals in cooperation long enough to produce something as insanely complicated as a computer in quantities that allow you to own one. Money makes us turn a blind eye to race, religion, and nationality, to help more than the handful of people we know and like.

    Money makes you a hundred times wealthier than you would be in a non-monetary system and keeps you from starving during local crop failures. Don't knock the lucre.

    ---

God may be subtle, but he isn't plain mean. -- Albert Einstein

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