Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks’ story is only recently coming to public knowledge, which, given that her cells have benefited countless human lives and changed the course of modern medicine, is astounding. It is a wonder greater humanity did not know of her sooner, but her cellular capacities have been known within the scientific community for decades — and this is the major point of contention within her story.

The great-great-granddaughter of a slave, Lacks was born a person of little means. Her mother died when Lacks was a child, and her father abandoned her at her grandfather’s log cabin. She married a cousin with whom she grew up, and together they had five children, one of whom was developmentally impaired. She raised their first two children while her husband served the 1940s war effort as a Bethlehem steelworker; the other three followed upon his return after the war ended.

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For many years, medical doctors and research scientists believed the human brain had a limited capacity to undergo self-renewal as it aged, where unlike other organs of the body, loss of a cell to death or damage is not followed by growth of replacements. But according to a recently-released study, the neurons making up the bulk of the brain might actually be replenished well into adulthood. As such, perhaps the public service messages advising people that you only get a fixed amount of brain cells and therefore should not use illicit drugs and alcohol because they kill neurons may be in error.

To better understand the research and its significance, here is some background information on the architecture of the human brain.

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Fatigue can be a side effect of many other diseases, but with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), it is typically the primary symptom of this potentially debilitating condition that continues to baffle doctors and patients alike.

Like many diseases that tend to affect women in greater numbers than men, CFS, now more formally known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) or systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID), began its introduction into medicine with much skepticism. Its lack of an easily identifiable underlying cause has created a lot of controversy among the scientific community as to whether it is even a real disease.

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[DIGEST: Gizmodo, MIT Technology Review, Big Think ]

A team of London doctors has become the first to successfully treat leukemia using genetically-engineered immune cells.

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Water bear. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a water bear (Paramacrobiotus craterlaki) in moss. Water bears (or tardigrades) are tiny invertebrates that live in aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats such as lichen and damp moss. Paramacrobiotus craterlaki is a carnivorous species that feeds on nematodes and rotifers. Water bears are found throughout the world, including regions of extreme temperature, such as hot springs, and extreme pressure, such as deep underwater. They can also survive the high levels of radiation and vacuum of space. Magnification: x330 when printed at 10 centimetres wide.

DIGEST: [Gizmodo, Nature News]

Tardigrades, or water bears, are tough little creatures. They’re only half a millimeter long fully-grown, but they can live through almost anything: temperatures as low as -458 degrees Fahrenheit or as high as 300 degrees, pressures six times greater than those in the deepest ocean trenches, extraordinary amounts of radiation, even the vacuum of space. Last month, researchers in Japan published an analysis of the entire genome of one of the most resilient tardigrade species.

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