Henrietta Lacksの細胞がポリオ・ガン・インフルエンザなど数々の研究に使用されてきた。
 コロンビア大学の微生物学研究室で、最近100年で最も偉大な医学的進歩に貢献した細胞を使って Vincent Racaniello 教授は実験をしている。しかし、普通の細胞ではない。HeLa細胞と呼ばれ、新薬の開発やワクチンの研究、遺伝子研究にも使われる。
 約60年前に亡くなった30才の貧しい黒人女性Henrietta Lacksから得られたものである。
How One Woman's Cells Changed Medicine
Cells From Henrietta Lacks Used in Research on Polio, Cancer, Flu
Jan. 31, 2010

In a microbiology lab at New York's Columbia University, Professor Vincent Racaniello experiments with some cells that have led to some of the greatest medical breakthroughs of the last hundred years. But these are no ordinary cells.

画像Henrietta Lacks, circa 1950.
(Courtesy of PNAS.org)

They're called, HeLa. And they were first used in research that led to the Polio vaccine, as well as helping to develop medicines to fight cancer, the flu and Parkinson's disease, and in the research that led to gene mapping and cloning. They were used to test the effects of atomic radiation and sent into outer space.

All of the HeLa cells, trillions upon trillions of them, originally came from one person-Henrietta Lacks, a poor 30-year-old black woman who died nearly 60 years ago.

"The list of things we can do because of that is just incredible," said Rebecca Skloot, who wrote the book, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks."

In 1951, Lacks went to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore suffering from cervical cancer. Before she died, doctors took some of her tumor cells for research without ever telling her.
"They never asked permission to take the cells, which was standard at the time," Skloot said. "They just took them."
Researchers discovered that those cells did something they'd never seen before: They could be kept alive and grow.
"I think we owe a lot of gratitude for what Henrietta provided," Racaniello said. "There's absolutely no doubt about that."
Lacks died later that year, but her cells lived on, providing a seemingly endless supply for researchers around the world, and eventually for companies to sell to sell for profit.
"It's hard to pinpoint how much money has been made, but it's a lot of money," Skloot said.
To top it off, no one in Lacks' family ever knew any of this for more than 20 years. When they were finally told in the 1970s, they were stunned, then angry.
"That's the main thing that's troubled me about it," said Bobbette Lacks. "Why was it kept such a secret?"
While companies that sold HeLa cells made billions, Henrietta's family had little money, and, in perhaps the greatest irony, some of them could not afford health insurance.
As Lacks' family learned more about the medical advances from HeLa cells, the anger gave way to pride.
"What makes me happy about it is it's something that my mother has contributed to the world," said Henrietta's son Sonny.
To this day, Lacks' cells have lead to major medical breakthroughs and the companies selling her cells make billions of dollars.
To this day, her family has never been paid a cent, nor been given an apology.
A Lasting Gift to Medicine That Wasn’t Really a Gift

Published: February 1, 2010

Fifty years after Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer in the “colored” ward at Johns Hopkins Hospital, her daughter finally got a chance to see the legacy she had unknowingly left to science. A researcher in a lab at Hopkins swung open a freezer door and showed the daughter, Deborah Lacks-Pullum, thousands of vials, each holding millions of cells descended from a bit of tissue that doctors had snipped from her mother’s cervix.

画像ETHICS Henrietta and David Lacks around 1945. Doctors gave a sample of the cancer that killed her to a researcher without telling the family.

Ms. Lacks-Pullum gasped. “Oh God,” she said. “I can’t believe all that’s my mother.”

When the researcher handed her one of the frozen vials, Ms. Lacks-Pullum instinctively said, “She’s cold,” and blew on the tube to warm it. “You’re famous,” she whispered to the cells.

Minutes later, peering through a microscope, she pronounced them beautiful. But when she asked the researcher which were her mother’s normal cells and which the cancer cells, his answer revealed that her precious relic was not quite what it seemed. The cells, he replied, were “all just cancer.”

The vignette comes from a gripping new book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” (Crown Publishers), by the journalist Rebecca Skloot. The story of Mrs. Lacks and her cells, and the author’s own adventures with Mrs. Lacks’s grown children (one fries her a pork chop, and another slams her against a wall) is by turns heartbreaking, funny and unsettling. The book raises troubling questions about the way Mrs. Lacks and her family were treated by researchers and about whether patients should control or have financial claims on tissue removed from their bodies.

The story began in January 1951, when Mrs. Lacks was found to have cervical cancer. She was treated with radium at Johns Hopkins, the standard of care in that day, but there was no stopping the cancer. Her doctor had never seen anything like it. Within months, her body was full of tumors, and she died in excruciating pain that October. She was 31 and left five children, the youngest just a year old. She had been a devoted mother, and the children suffered terribly without her.

Neither Mrs. Lacks nor any of her relatives knew that doctors had given a sample of her tumor to Dr. George Gey, a Hopkins researcher who was trying to find cells that would live indefinitely in culture so researchers could experiment on them. Before she came along, his efforts had failed. Her cells changed everything: they multiplied like crazy and never died.

A cell line called HeLa (for Henrietta Lacks) was born. Those immortal cells soon became the workhorse of laboratories everywhere. HeLa cells were used to develop the first polio vaccine, they were launched into space for experiments in zero gravity and they helped produce drugs for numerous diseases, including Parkinson’s, leukemia and the flu. By now, literally tons of them have been produced.

Dr. Gey did not make money from the cells, but they were commercialized. Now they are bought and sold every day the world over, and they have generated millions in profits.

The Lacks family never got a dime. They were poor, with little education and no health insurance, and some had serious physical or mental ailments. But they didn’t even know that tissue had been taken or that HeLa cells even existed until more than 20 years after Mrs. Lacks’s death. And they found out only by accident, when her daughter-in-law met someone from the National Cancer Institute who recognized her surname and said he was working with cells from “a woman named Henrietta Lacks.”

The daughter-in-law rushed home and told Mrs. Lacks’s son, Lawrence, “Part of your mother, it’s alive!”

When they learned that their mother’s cells had saved lives, the family felt proud. But they also felt confused, a bit frightened, used and abused. It had never occurred to anyone to ask permission to take their mother’s tissue, tell them that her cells had changed scientific history or even to say thank you. And certainly no one had ever suggested that they deserved a share of the profits.

Some of the Lackses later gave blood to Hopkins researchers, thinking they were being tested for cancer, when really the scientists wanted their genetic information to help determine whether HeLa cells were contaminating other cultures. When Ms. Pullum-Lacks asked a renowned geneticist at the hospital, Victor McKusick, about her mother’s illness and the use of her cells, he gave her an autographed copy of an impenetrable textbook he had edited, and, Ms. Skloot writes, “beneath his signature, he wrote a phone number for Deborah to use for making appointments to give more blood.”

The bounds of fairness, respect and simple courtesy all seem to have been breached in the case of the Lacks family. The gulf between them and the scientists ― race, class, education ― was enormous and made communication difficult.

A less charitable view is that it might have made the Lackses easier to ignore. When the family’s story became known in the black community in Baltimore, Ms. Skloot writes, it was seen as the case of a black woman whose body had been exploited by white scientists.

Ideas about informed consent have changed in the last 60 years, and the forms now given to people having surgery or biopsies usually spell out that tissue removed from them may be used for research. But Ms. Skloot points out that patients today don’t really have any more control over removed body parts than Mrs. Lacks did. Most people just obediently sign the forms.

Which is as it should be, many scientists say, arguing that Mrs. Lacks’s immortal cells were an accident of biology, not something she created or invented, and were used to benefit countless others. Most of what is removed from people is of no value anyway, and researchers say it would be too complicated and would hinder progress if ownership of such things were assigned to patients and royalties had to be paid.

But in an age in which people can buy songs with the click of a mouse, that argument may become harder to defend.

So far, the courts have sided with scientists, even in a case in the 1980s in which a leukemia patient’s spleen and other tissues turned out to be a biomedical gold mine ― for his doctor. The patient, John Moore, sued his doctor after discovering that the doctor had filed for a patent on his cells and certain proteins they made, and had created a cell line called Mo with a market value estimated at $3 billion. Mr. Moore ultimately lost before the California Supreme Court.

As Ms. Skloot writes in her last chapter, this issue is not going away. If anything, it may become increasingly important, because the scale of tissue research is growing, and people are becoming savvier about the money to be made and also the potential for abuse if tissue samples are used to ferret out genetic information.

The notion of “tissue rights” has inspired a new category of activists. The question that comes up repeatedly is, if scientists or companies can commercialize a patient’s cells or tissues, doesn’t that patient, as provider of the raw material, deserve a say about it and maybe a share of any profits that result? Fewer people these days may be willing to take no for an answer.


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Skloot

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