The Importance of the Human Element: A review of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Cover of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta ...As a young woman working in microbiology I often think about HPV (human papillomavirus) and its impact on women. Thanks to decades of research we have discovered that HPV is a causative agent of cervical cancer (and other cancers, but that’s another article). Even more impressive is that there is now a vaccine designed to protect against the types that most commonly cause cancer, serotypes 16 and 18. This is great news for a generation of young women who will not have to know the torture of cervical cancer and losing their ability to bear children that their mothers and grandmothers faced. Even my own family has been touched by this disease and I am very thankful that, thanks to modern diagnostics and surgery, my loved one is still here with me. Incredibly, all of these advances can be tracked to one woman who unwittingly changed the face of medicine: Henrietta Lacks, or HeLa, as she is now known.

Read on to find out more about this woman and the fascinating book that has been written about her impact on modern science. Continue reading The Importance of the Human Element: A review of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Problem with Polio

Child receiving polio vaccine.
Child receiving polio vaccine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Polio is a disease that has seemed to fade away in the United States since the introduction of the polio vaccine in 1955. However, this disease is alive and well outside of the US despite a strong push by international agencies such as the WHO to eradicate polio in the last few decades. In fact, in 1988 the WHO pledged to eradicate polio by 2000, but this dream has yet to reach reality. Why is the eradication of polio less successful than the effort to eradicate Smallpox, a goal achieved in the 1970’s? These difficulties come from the nature of polio itself and the special challenges it poses to those who would halt its transmission. Continue reading The Problem with Polio