This week we are continuing to explore cell structure, function, cycle and regulation. Our bodies are composed of trillions of individual microscopic components called cells. Although human cells, which are eukaryotic cells, are similar in basic structure and features, each cell is specialized to perfom unique functions within the body. Examples are specialized cells include skin cells, heart cells, nerve cells, and liver cells. When cells grow out of control, the result is what the medical profession calls cancer.
Doctors in a California university removed a man’s spleen as standard treatment for a type of leukemia and the disease did not recur. Researchers kept the spleen cells alive in a nutrient medium and found that some of the cells produced a blood protein that showed some promise as a treatment for cancer and AIDS. The researchers patented the cells. The patient sued, claiming a share in profits from any products derived from his cells. The California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court both ruled against the patient.
In another case, a sample was taken of a woman’s malignant tumor that stemmed from cervical cancer. The patient died, but research using her cells continued. From the tumor cells, a human cell line was developed that ultimately led to the production of the polio vaccine. The cell line, HeLa for short, is still used by researchers all over the world today. All of the research and subsequent use of her cells was conducted without the family’s knowledge or consent.
Please read the accompanying article, then do the following:
1. Describe in 10 words or less your initial reaction to the article.
2. Share with the class who you feel owns cells that have been removed from a patient during a medical procedure – the patient or the doctor/scientist/institution. Fully explain your viewpoint.
3. Discuss with the class your viewpoint on whether or not research scientists should be allowed to conduct research using the cells of patients without their consent. Explain your viewpoint.