With the New York Times bestseller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, great attention has been brought to the importance of genetics and cell line research in finding a cure for cancer. This successful reproduction of cervical cancer cells over the past sixty years has lead to breakthroughs in everything from Parkinson’s to Polio.
Karen had breast cancer which spread or metastasized to her liver. This type of cancer has a very limited response to standard chemotherapy. I approached a researcher to attempt to develop a vaccine with her liver cancer cells. Scientists have had a hard time trying to study liver cancer, because human liver cells don’t grow well in a lab culture or test tube.
Researchers are pleased that a mouse may be used to transplant the human liver cancer, although the chances of reproduction and developing a cell line or maintaining a humanized metastatic breast-liver cancer (as in Karen’s case) from mouse to mouse, are one in ten-thousand. These reproduced cells may be used to develop a vaccine to help a patient’s own body fight off cancer.
Karen told the researchers, “It may be too late for me, but hopefully it will be able to help others.” Over eight years later, the cell line from Karen’s tissue, has continued to be successfully reproduced with renewed hope for the cure.
The National Cancer Institute distributes booklets explaining what you need to know in providing tissue for research.