[-empyre-] Cellular Risk

Bishnupriya Ghosh bg366 at cornell.edu
Fri Nov 9 12:46:22 EST 2012

Hi Renate--

yeah, I deliberately chose a well-known and controversial instance of what a productive, risk-taking, future-oriented practice might look like. My intent was to think of "potentiation" as a creative development of what is latent (in this case, facilitating cell growth in a medium outside the human body), without quite knowing whether or not it will work, for how long, or if it will be used and misused. In this sense, potentiation is value-neutral as a proliferating, extending, advancing of something.

it might have been the case that Dr.Gey asked Henrietta Lacks, she agreed, and he goes on to do the very same thing that he did: take 2 samples from her cervix, one of healthy and the other cancerous cells. But he didn't--choosing instead to ACCUMULATE Hela (if we see Hela as not just cells, but the knowledge gained from them) to consolidate his name. In this sense all potentiation practices remain open to capture: to calculated accumulation that capitalizes and turns a profit. I think that other drive, the drive to control and turn potential into calculable capacities, is always present: in this instance, the U.S. Patent and Trademark decision of 2001 enabled labs to patenting, and thereby, price cell lines). But it never quite erases the fecundity of some modes of potentiation, does it? Hela continues to give.

With the cellular, I could have presented the ethical issues we all know re the infamous Eduardo Kac and his GFP bunny. But I thought something completely different--in a different risk domain, with different stakes--provides a good foil to think through the ethics particular to the artistic...

From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] on behalf of Renate Ferro [rtf9 at cornell.edu]
Sent: Thursday, November 08, 2012 4:30 PM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Cellular Risk

Bishnu wrote:
"In Hela, then, we glimpse the two faces of risk culture. The one, a
> controversial and illicit scientific risk that potentiates the common good;
> and the other, a predatory encroachment on human biopotentials for
> individual glory and institutional profit."

Dear all,
Bishnu raises two pretty startling outcomes. I just did a quick wiki
search to get some background information on Henrietta Lacks immortal
cell line HeLa and was  awestruck by the medical progress that has
been accomplished by the exploitation of her cells:
-the Salk vaccine
-AIDS research
-the effects of radiation and toxic substances
-gene mapping
- testing how parvo virus infects cells of humans, HeLa, dog, and cats
-viruses such as the Oropouche virus (OROV)
-study of the expression of the papillomavirus E2 and apoptosis
-study canine distemper virus' ability to induce apoptosis in cancer cell lines
-cancer studies including those involving sex steroid hormones such as
Estradiol,    -estrogen, and estrogen receptors along with estrogen
like compound such as Quercetin
-effects of flavonoids and antioxidants with estradiol on cancer cell
investigation the phytochemical compounds and the fundamental
mechanism of the anticancer activity of the ethanolic extract of mango
-in vitro cancer research using cell lines
-used to define cancer markers in RNA, and have been used to establish
an RNAi Based Identification System and Interference of Specific
Cancer Cells

Not to condone the use of Henrietta Lack's bio material but was
wondering what you thought about the tension between the risk culture
and the medical outcomes above. How do we ethically balance risk
culture with potential medical advances that save lives? On the other
hand how do we handle cell contamination and the problem that HeLa
strain cells have infiltrated into other cell strains?

Renate Ferro
Visiting Assistant Professor of Art
Cornell University
Department of Art, Tjaden Hall Office #420
Ithaca, NY  14853
Email:   <rtf9 at cornell.edu>
URL:  http://www.renateferro.net
Lab:  http://www.tinkerfactory.net

Managing Co-moderator of -empyre- soft skinned space
empyre forum
empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au

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