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UPDATE: Famous Tumors

Tuesday, October 22, 2013 - 06:32 PM

HeLa S3 cells HeLa S3 cells (opiado/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

When we first released Famous Tumors, Rebecca Skloot's book about the life and legacy of Henrietta Lacks (and her famous cells) had just hit the shelves. Since then, some interesting things have happened to both Henrietta's cells and her family. So, 4 years later, we have a newly updated show!

This hour, we poke and prod at the good, bad, and ugly sides of tumors -- from the growth that killed Ulysses S. Grant, to mushy lumps leaping from the faces of infected Tasmanian Devils, to a mass that awakened a new (though pretty strange) kind of euphoria for one man. Plus, the updated story of one woman's medically miraculous cancer cells, and how they changed modern science and, eventually, her family's understanding of itself.

Read more:

Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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Comments [17]

I actually had the chance to read "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot, and I have great respect for Henrietta and how her cells have changed the course of cancer and tumor research worldwide. Thanks to HeLa cells we can test effects of drugs, testing for cancer therapy. I preferred Rebecca's book to the segment in this podcast of Henrietta Lacks. It is more personal, and how the discovery and the effect of the cancer on Henrietta's family. The biography is delicately balanced between the importance of cells and who Henrietta Lacks was as a person, unlike the segment in this podcast. BUT, I thoroughly enjoyed this podcast overall, especially about the devils.

Apr. 06 2014 11:43 PM

I loved these stories soo much and now have a new book to read. At first it felt like the Lacks story was not going to have a happy ending.

Mar. 01 2014 12:24 PM
Chad from New York

Great episode, and an excellent update. There's a bit of music in the Tazmanian Devil segment, at about 8:15 into the show file (Following the OQ: "...well you just wait") that I would very much like to track down. It's an eerie flute melody and some bass plunking along before the incidental action music kicks in. Any insight about the source of this music?

Jan. 28 2014 04:16 PM
Zelda West from VA

Trevor from Colorado: Roanoke Colony is in Dare County, NC. Roanoke, where Henrietta was from, is in VA. Sorry, no conspiracy here!

Nov. 16 2013 02:18 PM
Paul

Sorry, Trevor. It's Roanoke, Virginia.

Nov. 07 2013 04:16 PM
Trevor from Boulder, CO

Henrietta Lacks was from Roanoke? As in the location where the Roanoke Colony mysteriously disappeared and left "Croatoan" carved into a tree?

Let the conspiracy theory begin!

Nov. 04 2013 06:25 PM
Denver C. from Richmond, IN

Jad and Robert, GREAT show as always! I really enjoy the depth and detail delivered in your podcast. Keep it up. I found myself totally enveloped in the episode about tumors.

Nov. 03 2013 08:59 PM

Perhaps I would have liked this episode better if I hadn't already read Skloot's book, which is much better than this episode would indicate. Her portrayal of the Lacks family is astonishing - honest and unsparing, not Jad and Robert's deified version. She adopts a fly-on-the-wall perspective, giving us an unprecedented peek into these lives of extreme poverty, disease, ignorance, bitterness and dysfunction, yet punctuated with acts kindness and generosity you wouldn't think possible amidst such suffering. And the sad, ironic truth is, it was not just Johns Hopkins and medical history that forgot Henrietta, but her own family as well. Skloot brought her back to life for them as well as us. She is also a very entertaining science writer. I learned a lot about cell biology and bio-genetics - good mix of science and human interest.

Seems like Jad and Robert can't get through an episode these days without some sermonizing. Like we can't see through the gratuitous inclusion of the cousin's spontaneous burst of preaching. Or the references to religion in the segment on brain tumors. That segment could have been so much more interesting if they'd gotten into some actual neuroscience. And no mention of Jill Bolte Taylor (of the famous TED talk)? Must be it was deemed too secular.

I don't think there has been a really good Radiolab episode for over a year now. I think I am finally giving up hope, and unsubscribing :( I recently listened to an old episode I had missed, Parasites, which served as a sad reminder of how great this show used to be.

Oct. 29 2013 12:27 PM
Jakub Świadek from Poznań, Poland

Great stories, as always. To my amazement, the last segment told a story I knew before, from a song by Yeasayer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vo4rbhR_vsk

I love so much when these moments of different paths of culture cross together... Thanks!

Lyrics to the song:

Fever in the night, and the tremors come on
But it's you who'll survive, just like nobody thought
Nails turnin' red, lying cold on the bed
And now it turns out, death's not the end

She was a bone, we sharpened our teeth
A magnificent drone, was serving under our feet
You'll be making me rich, he'll throw you away
And after he's gone, oh HeLa's here to stay

Radiation makes you weak, tried okays leave your speech
The world owes more than they'll pay, in the wind I heard them say...

Oh Henrietta, we can live on forever...

Oct. 29 2013 12:16 PM
Nicolas from Switzerland

Here's another example of cells spontaneously growing outside of a body: stem cells. Not only they grow, but they also spontaneously change themselves into x, y, or z tissue.

Brilliant show (and excellent book!). Thank you so much!

Oct. 29 2013 04:03 AM
Daniella

Great stuff as usual. I just wanted to point out to Rebecca Skloot that there *is* another, perfectly good example of Henrietta's cells continuing to grow separately after being disconnected from her body... Deborah herself, and all her siblings :)

Oct. 28 2013 05:13 AM
Trane Levington from Seattle,WA

Heartfelt Greetings, Radiolab.

It is now 10/26/2013. I heard you say you are coming to Seattle in November. TicketMaster does not seem to know about it. One of the other headings that would have seemed a likely place, also did not have notice of it.
I could buy a ticket, if only I could. BooHoo. Please help me buy a ticket,or, at least, find out the info.
Thank you, Trane Levington

Oct. 26 2013 03:47 AM
Kevin Bradberry from Duluth, GA

This was one of the most impressive broadcasts that I've ever listened to.

Thank you Radio Lab for bringing me so close to a piece of history that my eyes tear up, my hair stands on end, and I whisper, to myself, "Oh my god". This particular show was not the first time you did that to me. I will be an eternal fan.

Oct. 25 2013 08:15 AM
Al from Southern California

Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, have that book :)

Oct. 25 2013 12:54 AM
Spencer from Texas

The part where Deborah's cousin spontaneously starts preaching and she . . . what's a fair word for it, has a theopathic fit, that was scary. Every time I hear it, my jaw drops and I can't blink.

Oct. 24 2013 10:52 PM
paul kendall

i thought the middle s in grants name was just for show,please advise...

Oct. 23 2013 10:12 PM
Kim Fleming from Atlanta, Ga

I am speechless after hearing this story. I always enjoy Radio lab podcast but the story on Henrietta Lacks, incredible! Amazing! Hats off to you for a job well done!

Oct. 23 2013 11:49 AM

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