I wanted this to start out about Henriettta. I guess it still does, but you’ll see how the world can change your plans.
Henrietta Lacks was a poor woman from Virginia. Her family grew tobacco and lived a somewhat harsh life filled with social injustice and spousal abuse. She developed a particularly nasty strain of cervical cancer and died soon after.
Now repeat after me: “Thank you, Henrietta.”
If you or your parents or grandparents didn’t suffer or die from polio, you owe her. Her tumor cells were crucial to the development of cell lines for research and essential in developing an effective vaccine against polio. Her cells helped make antibiotics widely available. Her cells have been to space.
Without the permission of Henrietta or her family, her cells were used. The Lacks family got nothing. Some companies grew incredibly wealthy. The world improved for billions of people.
She died of cancer at a time when little pain control was available. But she saved millions of lives.
The same is true for your pets. If they die from a disease, in some cases, their body may help scientists defeat the disease. If your veterinarian recommends necropsy, it can be awkward. But believe me, Henrietta proved it true.
Future generations of dogs may beat cancer. Future cats may have more effective treatments for heart disease. It sounds awful on one level, but remember Henrietta.
Unfortunately, legal issues regarding tissue samples favor big companies. Imagine that. But the benefit to the populace is real.
Tissue samples are essential to all biological research. No computer model, no matter how advanced and complicated, can mimic the random events of genetic change. We can tell a computer to change a bit of DNA, but the computer can’t tell us what will happen. And the computer can’t tell you what drug may kill cancer cells or repair heart muscle. Only real tissue research can do that.
Your loss could be the world’s gain. Remember Henrietta.
Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at email@example.com.