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I Have a Chip in my Shoulder

September 17, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

While reading the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks I kept thinking to myself, “What would her treatment and subsequent life be like if she were diagnosed today?” Whenever I would read Rebecca Skloot’s explanation of a medical or otherwise pathogen-related discovery, I would always come back to modern times and ask myself what being done today that could have aided doctors and researchers in their attempts to detect, diagnose, and treat these same diseases earlier. After doing this throughout the entire book, I found one point of intersection that never seemed to fail, technology.

Modern day technologies such a Computed Tomography scan (CT scan) and a Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine (MRI) have been used y doctors and scientists for years in the fight against malignant and/or cancerous tumors—such as the one Henrietta Lacks and George Guy developed. However, it appears that scientists in Germany are currently in the animal-testing stages of their new implantation chip that is supposed to read, and transmit oxygen levels in the blood of a localized area to a receiver that displays the information on a screen–it is fair to say that this is a better form of detection than simply realizing that “I got a knot on my womb.” (p. 13) (For those who are unaware, oxygen levels drop significantly during the proliferation and growth of tumor cells.) The chip is called “IntelliTuM”, and the team of developers hope that it will be able to monitor the progression of slow-growing or inoperable tumors that cause cancers such as cervical or pancreatic cancer—the cancers that plagued Henrietta and George Guy respectively. This device is to one day replace or be used in collaboration with the CT and MRI scans, without the high risk of radiation poisoning. It is important to remember however that the chip is still in its early stages and does come with the added risk of some toxic poisoning from the material of the chip itself. Although the chip may seem more science fiction than science at the moment, it is certainly more efficient than placing pure radium rods near the tumors themselves and hoping they are resized to a benign level.

The medical field is a constantly evolving one with twists and turns at every step of the way. When cancer research first began, they were not even considering the use of technology as form of detection. But that was then, and we have come a long way since.

I would say that this article leaves a few open-ended points for discussion specifically the point about Henrietta’s treatment had she been diagnosed today? But I would also like to ask if you believe the doctors did everything in their Hippocratic power to diagnose Henrietta’s tumor, considering the fact that it wasn’t until decades later did anyone care to examine the tumor cells more closely to find that they had been misidentified? But this wouldn’t be a question in 2011 if I didn’t wonder if Henrietta would really receive better care today, factoring in her economic and social status?

Greenwood, V. (2011, September 12). Tumor-monitoring implant could give advance warning of growth. In Discover Magazine. Retrieved September 17, 2011, from http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2011/09/12/tumor-monitoring-implant-could-give-advance-warning-of-growth/








  1. September 18, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    I do not believe that the doctors did everything they could in order to help Henrietta. There are always these experimental treatments that make the news whenever they are used, which is in rare occasions.

    There is a new experimental treatment against leukemia where a person’s T-Cells are altered using a impotent version of the HIV virus in order to kill cancer cells. The HIV is harmless and can not duplicate itself and the DNA in the T-Cells mutate to make it specifically target cancer cells. This method has shown to be promising. However, few cancer patients are given this treatment. This shows that doctors today do not do everything in their power to cure patients. The link to a newspaper article regarding this treatment is posted below.


  2. September 18, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    I agree with a lot of topics in this post, that technology and time play a huge part in science and the process of proving scientific theories. I like the question that you asked about what would happen to Henrietta if she were diagnosed today. I actually sometimes think about the opposite of that question when I hear of people’s medical problems: what would the treatment be like if we were living in the past, when doctors and scientists didn’t know half the things they do now.

    Is the question you asked about Henrietta’s treatment in present time going off of the assumption that someone else’s cells were immortalized, or if that hadn’t happened yet? This brings up the question in my mind of: if HeLa cells were never found, would we still be where we are today with the other cells that have been immortalized after those? I guess all of these cells are completely theoretical and there is no way to answer them completely.
    Since the rest of the Lacks family hasn’t received acceptable healthcare in more recent years, it is hard to say exactly what kind of treatment Henrietta would receive now if she was in the situation she was in almost 50 year ago. I definitely believe that she would have received better care given the more recent health laws that have been issued regarding cell and tissue donations, but the exact quality of her treatment remains questionable.

    I like the example that you gave about the “IntelliTuM” because it reinforces a theme that I have been thinking about with this class of how technologies cannot be completely proven affective and harmless until enough time has gone by and enough people have used the item without receiving side effects. The relationship between time and everything is an interesting one and it has been proven to have a notable relationship with science and technology as well.

  3. September 19, 2011 at 12:20 am

    I believe that she would have received better care and would have survived if she had received treatment in the present. However this is largely irrelevant due to her economic status. She would not be able to receive the care that she needs with out putting herself and her family into large debt. Many people can not afford the care that they need because its too expensive so they just go without receiving care. I think Henrietta would fall into this category and despite better methods of treatment being available now than there were in the past, she would not receive it because its just way to expensive.

  4. September 25, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    I’m responding to the last question about how she would be treated toady given her economic and social status. I believe that regardless of her economic and social status if Henrietta had gone to the hospital or doctor about “her knot,” she would have been treated equally. Although I understand that she may not have been able to afford the treatment, I feel the doctors would have been more persistent in her getting treatment when they discovered the severity of the case. Doctors want to cure people and if they saw that she had cancer they would have been driven to fix her. in today’s society, Henrietta would probably be the only one to stop herself from getting treatment. Based on the story, it seems Henrietta wanted the best for her family and she would probably not put her family in debt for the newest expensive treatment.

  5. Sean
    September 26, 2011 at 3:00 am

    I believe that the doctors treated her to their best of their ability at the time. Especially during her time, her economic and social status did play a very important factor in her diagnosis. Because she had to be in the “colored” section of the hospital, with the doctors having to treat and take care of both the whites and blacks, the doctors could have easily accidently mis-diagnosed her because they were not able to spend as much time with the colored patients because white people were higher on the concern level. The doctors used the most advanced treatment option of the time to help Henrietta, so I do believe that they did all they could to treat her given her circumstances.
    Granted, if she was treated today it would be a much differnet story. The doctors would not have mis-diagnosed because Henrietta would get the same treatment and time as everyone else, and I also believe that they could have done a better job with both diagnosis and treatmennt because of the all the technology they have today. Doctors could tell what kind of cancer, how far along it was, and how far it had actually spread.
    So its very unfortunate that Henrietta had to go through what she did, but the doctors did what they could do for their time and technology.

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