[-empyre-] Cellular Risk

Stewart Auyash auyash at ithaca.edu
Sat Nov 10 00:28:27 EST 2012

Thank you, Bishnu and Bhaskar,
I love your using the HeLa example. Her story is amazing on so many levels.
It offers us in public health (and elsewhere) more teachable moments than I
can think of. Honestly, I never thought much about it's relationship to
risk, though. Thanks for that.

You provoked me to think about the kinds of risks we take on with human
subjects in health and medicine (not to mention to daily we risks we take
as human guinea pigs with regards to BPA in our plastic bottles, additives
to our foods and drinks, breathing the air next to a power plant, climate
change, etc...) . At least in formal medical and health research, we are
required to let the "volunteers" know the risks (thanks in part to the
shameful legacy of the Tuskegee Experiment).  However, this assumes that 1)
those being researched are truly "volunteers' (they might be paid or have
no other clinical choices for example) and 2) that the researches
themselves know what the risks are.  Depending on the research, we really
do not know the risks or possible gains even could be. After all, isn't
that why we are doing research?  And human subjects reviews take place
mainly in rich countries where there are laws requiring informed consent
(however that may apply).  Thus the risk is somewhat shared between the
researcher and the researched. But among the poorer countries and other
places with little oversight, the risk is taken on solely by the
"volunteer." To me that's a major ethical risk issue we all to often ignore.

Thanks again for raising this issue.

On Thu, Nov 8, 2012 at 8:46 PM, Bishnupriya Ghosh <bg366 at cornell.edu> wrote:

> 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:
> _snip
> "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
> proliferation.
> investigation the phytochemical compounds and the fundamental
> mechanism of the anticancer activity of the ethanolic extract of mango
> peel
> -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
> 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
>       http://www.privatesecretspubliclies.net
> Lab:  http://www.tinkerfactory.net
> Managing Co-moderator of -empyre- soft skinned space
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu/
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empyre
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Stewart Auyash, MPH PhD
Associate Professor and Dept Chair
Dept of Health Promotion and Physical Education
Hill Center 7

Ithaca College
953 Danby Rd |  Ithaca, NY 14850
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