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/