Hutch News

From HeLa, high schoolers learn about bioethics, informed consent

Interns from Technology Access Foundation Academy share lessons with schoolmates via videoconference

Feb. 27, 2012

Working in the lab with HeLa cells—the immortal line derived more than 50 years ago from the cervical cancer cells of patient Henrietta Lacks—student interns from the Technology Access Foundation produced a live videoconference on bioethics for humanities students at their Federal Way public school.

Photo by Dean Forbes

High schoolers under the supervision of Dr. Beverly Torok-Storb in the Hutchinson Center training lab are learning and talking about the real life behind tissue samples used in research.

Working in the lab with HeLa cells—the immortal line derived more than 50 years ago from the cervical cancer cells of patient Henrietta Lacks—student interns and trainees from the Technology Access Foundation Academy produced a live videoconference on bioethics for humanities students at their Federal Way public school for grades 6-12.

The videoconference presentation took place Feb. 8 from a conference room in the Yale Building. Drs. Torok-Storb and Paul Martin, both of the Clinical Research Division, and Dr. Bessie Young of the University of Washington's Division of Nephrology assisted with the presentation.
     
The lessons originated from the reading and discussion of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." Journalist Rebecca Skloot's book explores how study of the late Lacks' multiplying cells has led to the development of many of the drugs and vaccines in use today. The author also raises difficult questions about informed consent and who should benefit from research on human subjects.  
 
Martin provided perspective on how informed consent works in today's biomedical institutions and the importance of anonymity for human samples used in research. Young spoke of the medical and societal landscapes of the 1950s, when there was little precedent for use of cells in research and a person's race could dictate where, or even whether, one would receive treatment.
   
Several grants from NIH enable six TAFA students to receive instruction in the Center's training lab, where they study techniques and equipment used in biomedical research-gaining experience usually encountered at the graduate school level.

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