July 18, 2011
I have yet to read the entire series but from the first two installments, I’m impressed. This is good information and extremely pertinent.
By Kelleigh Nelson
June 20, 2010
It was probably about 1951 or 52 when I was just a little girl and was sitting at the kitchen table in our apartment in Chicago. My mom was reading the Chicago Tribune newspaper and often would read aloud to me as a child. I distinctly remember her reading an article to me that stated the federal government had sprayed a flu virus over the Rogers Park area of Chicago to see how the contamination worked on the population. It was a very small article in the back pages, and I remember my mother’s anger at reading it. I believe Americans have been experimented on for many, many decades, and I also believe it will get far worse with the coming Obamacare.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
In 1951 a 31 year old woman and mother of five by the name of Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer in Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Without her or her family’s permission, portions of her cancer cells were taken by her doctor prior to her treatment as well as after her death and during autopsy. Throughout our history, the poorer citizens, many of whom were black, were especially targeted for experimentation. Henrietta had two of the most virulent strains of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) that cause cervical cancer. There are over 100 different strains affecting 90% of today’s sexually active population. Henrietta’s family did not learn of her cells being taken until over 20 years after her death.
Unlike normal cells which are extremely difficult to grow, the cancer cells from Henrietta grew exponentially. They are called the HeLa cell line, the first two letters from the patient’s name were used for cell lines back then. Henrietta’s cells have helped to conquer various illnesses with new drugs, helped create the polio vaccine, uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effect and have been bought and sold by the billions. There are so many of them now that they would wrap around the earth three times. They also easily contaminate other cell lines so their use is now in a sterile and controlled environment.
Henrietta’s family has never received one dime from any laboratory or Johns Hopkins in all the years since her death despite the fact that her cells were taken without the family’s knowledge. There are still no laws on the books stating that any piece of your body that is removed cannot be used without your express permission. Today, labs sell countless biopsies for various uses in cell line cultures.
Back in 1954, Dr. Chester Southam, a cancer researcher and chief of virology at Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute had a frightening thought. What if the researchers working with HeLa cells could be infected? He and many other scientists believed that cancer was caused by either a virus or an immune system deficiency, so Southam decided to use HeLa to test those theories.
He loaded a syringe with saline solution mixed with HeLa. He injected millions of HeLa cells into the forearm of a leukemia patient telling her he was testing her immune system. Within a short period of time, nodules like Henrietta’s showed on the arm. He removed them. He injected several other patients who had cancers to see whether or not their own immune system would fight them off. In many cases they did, but in four they had to be removed but kept growing back, and in one they metastasized to her lymph nodes.
Southam continued injecting patients at Sloan-Kettering and James Ewing Hospitals. It wasn’t until three Jewish doctors refused to do Southam’s protocols, citing the Nuremburg code, that the experiments were halted. In the ensuing media mess and trial, Southam nearly lost his medical license, and the wars about patient consent began.
Southam went on to solicit prisoners in Ohio State Penitentiary in order to inject healthy patients with HeLa. As Rebecca Skloot, the author of, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” states, his tactics reminded her of Dr. Josef Mengele, the notorious “Angel of Death,” in Nazi Germany who conducted horrid experiments on prisoners and especially twins.
Part II The Polio Vaccine Contamination with SV-40
Find the rest of the series and other articles by Kelleigh Nelson here