The Pros And Cons Of Hela Cells

870 Words 4 Pages
The medical world was buzzing with optimism at the news of HeLa cells. The potential of this discovery seemed limitless. Immediately, countless experiments and research were being carried out. The most prominent was research based on the theory that cancer was caused by a virus. Curtis narrates the tale of two scientists who decided to test this theory by conducting experiments on prisoners in the Ohio State Penitentiary. These experiments involved injecting the prisoners with HeLa cells under the skin and observing the tumours that formed there. Robert Stevenson, a cell biologist who was being interviewed at this time agreed that the experiment was a reasonable thing to do. Evidently, one would not think this was reasonable but in fact unethical …show more content…
The leading man behind these experiments is Chester Southam. His research seeks to understand how cancer is caused by a virus and that susceptibility to cancer is caused by lack of natural immunity to these viruses. In actuality, he did not just experiment on prisoners but also cancer patients of varying degrees of health (Leonard 2003). What is even more shocking is that he was not alone in his efforts. Other researchers, such as Ludwik Gross, are also known to have been doing the same thing. Eventually, it was made known that the practices used by Southam are indeed dangerous. The cancer transplants grew uncontrollably in cancer patients and often had to be surgically removed or destroyed with radiation since they were very aggressive (Leonard 2003). Despite this, Southam was not concerned for his experiment subjects but wanted to determine whether they had developed immunity to cancer or not (Leonard 2003). That being said, this case is deserving of a documentary of its own since the underlying ethical issues here run deep. In this context, Curtis should have taken a stance otherwise it would seem as if he condones this …show more content…
Mary Lasker, a health activist and philanthropist at the time, worked to raise funds for cancer research and through her efforts and campaigns, President Nixon passed the National Cancer Act of 1971. With more funding and public support, cancer research was optimistic and promising. Until one day in 1974, Walter Nelson Rees, a cell culture expert discovered widespread contamination of cell lines by HeLa. HeLa cells were so aggressive that even the slightest contamination would render a cell culture useless (Culliton 1974). By this time, HeLa was so widely distributed that they even affected cancer research in other countries. Russian scientists at the time, thought to have made a breakthrough in identifying the cancer virus were exceptionally dejected when it was found out that their results were null due to HeLa contamination. Countless cancer research experiments were ruined along with the promises it brought. In the documentary, Curtis has successfully stressed on how dire the situation is. Several cancer researchers talked about the magnitude of the cells contamination and how disappointed they felt that their efforts have gone to waste. This case was concluded with the ‘War On Cancer’ research program being shut down and at the same time, losing the trust of the public. Beyond that, Curtis did not decide to elaborate further on exactly

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