Human-Made: Technologies Of The Body

Posted on


via Wikimedia Commons” align=”” width=”1200″] Multiphoton fluorescence image of Henrietta Lack’s cells commonly referred to as HeLa cells. Photo Credit: National Institutes of Health (NIH) via Wikimedia Commons.

Henrietta Lacks is best known as the woman whose cancer cells originate the HeLa line which has been used extensively in medical research since the 1950s in North America. Lack’s cells are immortalized because not only are they the most commonly used human cell line, but these were the first human cells grown in a lab which were naturally “immortal” meaning that these cells did not die after a set number of cell divisions (i.e. cellular senescence). Leonard Hayflick later found in the 1960s that the only immortal cultured cells are cancer cells and all the other types of human cells have a limited capacity to divide, after which they become senescent (unable to further divide). But what brought Lack’s case to public attention decades after her death in 1951 was the lack of ethics involved in how Lack’s cells were obtained without her knowledge or consent authorizing doctors to extract or culture her cells.

Today, thanks to the advances in jurisprudence and medical ethics, consent and privacy issues are at the core of medical practices. Yet, Lack’s cells formed the bedrock to several massive changes in medical technology among which were the discovery of HPV-18 cells later used in developing HPV vaccines, the testing of Salk’s polio vaccine, the mapping of the human genome and the creation of the field of virology. Her cells continue to be used today in laboratories around the world.

Now, almost seventy years later the technology of medicine has gone mainstream and entered into new tech. Not only can you do DNA tests and get online results within five weeks, but now Airbnb is cashing in on this trend and offering “heritage vacations” where you can visit the countries of your ancestral DNA. And Airbnb and 23andMe aren’t the only companies cashing in on genealogy tours, AncestryDNA and Go Ahead Tours are also partaking in this new market of technology meets tourist culture.

There is even a rising trend of expectant parents who sign up for cord blood banking so that their child has a stem cell insurance plan for life. In the UK, the rates of cord blood banking have almost doubled since 2014 and according to some reports, this upward trend is expected to continue. The cultural practices of parenting are swiftly shifting from worries about elite daycare and prep schools for children to figuring out how to preserve their most precious cells from birth.

Yet the technology of the body does not begin and end with somatic tissues like blood or organ donation, and we are seeing the extension of technology to the body. From the newly-launched Ezra, an MRI technology which can detect 11 different cancers in men and 13 in women, to the boom of wearable tech, we are witnessing the explosion of positive uses of technology today within our everyday lives.

The technology of the body is as much about finding better and healthier ways of living as much as it is about creating new cultural niches, changing how we engage in work and leisure. While the negative aspects of new technology have widely been highlighted within the mental health sector, new tech has also moved towards a language which reflects the human body and psychology. For instance, AI safeguards banking “immune systems” and AI-powered robots are being given “positive reinforcement” as a reward for learning. Still, there are economic practices within the fintech sector that many deem controversial in a world where economic precarity is still very much a dominant force and the sustainability of very real human bodies lie in the balance.

Moreover, there is reason for concern where technologies are turned onto the body and are used to as mechanisms of surveillance, such as the case of facial recognition which is provoking legal debates and fierce criticism of police ethics from California to the United Kingdom. Liberty, the UK’s human rights organization is currently on the third day of its legal challenge regarding the use of facial recognition by the South Wales Police stating that the scanning of faces to capture and store their biometric dating is “akin to taking their DNA or fingerprints without their knowledge or consent.” Liberty objects to these technological scans of biometric data because not only is this information used to match “against police watch lists which may include entirely innocent people,” but this technology is not proven in its accuracy and has resulted in the stopping of innocent people—largely women and minority ethnic groups.

We have come full circle where it comes to the uses and abuses of technology from Henrietta Lacks to today. The bottom line is that we must learn to distinguish between the technologies that can better our bodies and lives and those that will undeniably hurt the innocent and persecute the already marginalized.



Source link

ALSO READ :  DC Blockchain Summit served as a central point for conversation on technology and policy

Recommended for you