Many contributing factors have been associated with the onset of cancer, including exposures
to carcinogens such as excessive exposure to UV radiation and to the chemicals found in
cigarettes. In addition, several forms of cancer have been found to have familial tendencies.
Current cancer research has uncovered many genes that are linked to various cancers and other
diseases and as is the case with most new technologies, how this information is obtained from
patients and handled will need to be approached cautiously in order to assure confidentiality of
the genetic profiles of individuals and their families. Although modern day advancements offer
several tests to identify the inheritance of a gene, genetic counselors still rely on traditional
methodologies such as the creation of a pedigree when determining an individual’s genetic
predisposition to specific types of cancers. In this activity students will construct a pedigree of
Henrietta’s family and then record and analyze the genetic history of the family over several
1. Consider, analyze and represent viewpoints different from stakeholders involved in the Case of Henrietta Lacks.
2. Experience the range of positions taken by individuals from the scientific community and relatives of Henrietta Lacks as well as various individuals and organizations with respect to the issues which arise from this case.
3. Engage in a discussion about the ethical, legal, and scientific policies surrounding the distribution, use, and historical significance of the HeLa cell.
National Biotechnology Standards:
BT.7.3 Compare and contrast attitudes about the use of biotechnology regionally, nationally, and internationally.
BT. 7.4 Evaluate the regulatory policies impacting biotechnology research - e.g., use of animals in research and applications of recombinant DNA.
Engage (Activate Student Thinking)
1. To prepare for this activity, print and cut out the Say What? Stakeholder Role Play cards and assign (or let students choose) the individual(s) they would like to portray during the activity. Students can choose to play one or multiple roles depending on the size of the class or group.
2. View selected segments of the documentary, “The Way of All Flesh” located via Vimeo at the following URL - http://vimeo.com/115948980. Select clips of interviews of the Lacks family and key players in this case study. Instruct students to observe the clips as an actor or actress would when researching a character he or she may portray in a movie or film.
3. Distribute the Say What? Stakeholder Role Play Interview Questions to each student. Ask students to read all of the questions and decide which question is best addressed or answered by the quote(s) of the individual they have selected or been assigned and record that question on the back of their role-play card(s).
Explore (Guided/Student-Centered Activity)
Encourage students to further research the stakeholder by reviewing the text using the page number references provided on the role-play cards and by conducting additional research using online and multimedia resources such as video clips as well as newspaper and journal articles provided in this curriculum.
Explain (Formulate Ideas)
Select a student to assume the role of author Rebecca Skloot. This student will act as the moderator of this discussion. It may be helpful to arrange the classroom in such a way that students will be able to view each other as they deliver their "lines" which are actual quotes from a character in the text written on role play cards. The student selected to play the role of Ms. Skloot will deliver the questions provided in a "talk-show" format for both the “family” and the “scientists” connected to this case. Students are given the opportunity to respond to the questions by either reading or paraphrasing the quote of the stakeholder in which they represent.
“Say What” Role Play Interview Questions
1. Who was Henrietta Lacks?
2. What do you want the world to know, discover, recall, or remember about Henrietta Lacks?
3. How did Henrietta’s cancer diagnosis affect her and her family?
4. What do you remember about Henrietta’s final moments as she fought her illness?
5. Did John Hopkins have the obligation to inform the family sooner about the use of the HeLa cells?
6. What aspect of the use of Henrietta’s cells is most disturbing to you as her family?
1. Who owns cells?
2. Should patients control financial claims from the tissues that came from their bodies?
3. How were Henrietta’s cells different from other cancer cells?
4. What do you remember about treating Henrietta Lacks?
5. What do you recall about the nature of Henrietta’s illness, prognosis, and treatment?
6. What were the initial reactions to the HeLa cells?
7. Where did the various names used (i.e. Helen Lane) come from? Why did it take several decades for the actual name to be released?
8. Should the Lacks’ family have been notified of the odd ability of Henrietta’s cells?
9. Once the Lacks family was contacted what was their reaction? Was consent obtained when several members were asked to give blood?
10. How did the HeLa cell contamination affect the cell culture community?
Elaborate (Apply and Extend Understanding)
To debrief as a class, ask if any student would like to summarize their stakeholders overall viewpoint or position as it relates to the case of Henrietta Lacks, the challenges, triumphs, advantages and disadvantages of human cell culture, and/or the historical significance of the HeLa cell. Have students consider the following from the viewpoint of the stakeholder: Does the source of the HeLa cell influence your position about its use in research? Does the past and future potential benefit of its use in research influence your position about the current distribution and availability of the HeLa cell?
Evaluate (Monitor Understanding)
Have students write a short biography of the stakeholder that they had the opportunity to research and portray during the role-play activity. Ask students to include inferences about the stakeholder’s perspective with respect to other scientific debates such as clinical trial regulations, organ donations, embryonic stem cell research, cloning and genetically modified organisms based on the viewpoints expressed on the issue of these “immortal” cells.