What's Being Done To Prevent Another Henrietta Lacks Case?
More than 60 years after her death, Lacks' genetic material can no longer be used by researchers without family consent. Is the same true for the rest of us? Not exactly.
What's the Latest Development?
Last week, an agreement went into effect between the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the family of Henrietta Lacks, a woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951 and whose cell line -- taken without consent and used without permission -- influenced cancer studies for 60 years. With it, a measure of privacy has been returned to her genetic descendants, but writer Taylor Beck questions whether enough is being done to ensure that others' genomes are similarly protected at a time when it's becoming easier than ever to hack them.
What's the Big Idea?
Beck writes, "In most states, it's legal for doctors to take blood or tissue samples for research, without consent, as long as they were taken for a medical reason and stripped of 'identifying information' like a name or social security number." However, technology will soon exist that could eventually allow a hacker to decode that identifying information and use it to impact a person's employment or insurability. In 2011, the US government released a proposed policy that addressed many of the privacy and consent questions involved in the Lacks case. Two years later, the proposal has not made much progress.
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It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?
- Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
- Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
- Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.
It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.
In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.
Image from the study.
As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.
Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.
"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.
It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.
Image by authors of the study.
Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.
The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.
“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."
Do you have a magnetic compass in your head?
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