portrait of Henrietta Lacks with lines building on her image to a grid of connected dots

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot
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What was the result of Southam's first research study in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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This section of the novel is one where shady medical ethics and personal ambition meet. Southam was interested in the impact of Henrietta's cancer cells on humans, and in particular what would happen if they were injected directly into humans. He therefore injected HeLa into patients who already had cancer and also healthy people, choosing prisoners to use for this expriment. Whereas for those with cancer some responded badly, growing and developing tumours and in one or two cases developing inoperable cancer, those who were healthy had a different response, as Chapter 17 describes:

...unlike the terminally ill patients, those men fought off the cancer completely. And with each new injection, their bodies responded faster, which seemed to indicate that the cells were increasing the inmates' immunity to cancer.

Of course, Skloot also identifies the way in which Southam broke medical ethics in a way that was reminiscent of what the Nazis did in concentration camps. This truth may have been interesting and valuable, therefore, but it was a truth that was gained through research that was deplorable through the misinformation provided to the patients.

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