Tag Archives: Alison Pletch

Recess Rehash: Henrietta Lacks vs. HeLa, and the People Behind the Specimens

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[With the news that HBO and Oprah Winfrey will release an adaptation of Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in April 2017, enjoy this discussion with Lacks’ great grandaughter and grandson, originally recorded in 2013]

The efficacy of any biomedical researcher is based on his or her foundation of scientific knowledge.  Few would have any problem grasping that idea.  What’s less well understood, by both researchers and laypeople alike, are the stories of the biological materials they work with.  Often these materials are cell cultures, tissue samples, human DNA.

From left to right: Dave Etler, Eboni Jones, Victoria Baptiste, David Lacks, Alison Pletch, and Greg Pelc.

Unlike the chemicals, reagents, test tubes, and machinery used in research, these materials often come from people.  That’s easily forgotten when they can be ordered from catalogs and websites in the way of other commodities. But those people, who may no longer live among us, have stories.  In the case of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman who passed away in the early 1950s of cervical cancer, the cells taken from her without her or her families’ knowledge touched off a revolution in biomedical science.

Henrietta and Day Lacks (From
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,”
R. Skloot, 2009)

They’ve contributed to the vaccine for polio, were the first cells to be cloned, and have been used in a number of cancer, virus, and pharmacological studies all over the world. Rebecca Skloot’s 2009 book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks noted that Mrs. Lacks’ cells have been used in more than 60,000 studies, and 300 more are being added each month.  They are of huge importance to science because they were the first so-called immortal cell line–unlike most cells, they divide and reproduce essentially without limit.  But though no-one in Henrietta Lacks’ family knew of their existence at first, the cells ultimately became of huge importance to her descendants.  In this episode, Alison Pletch, Eboni Jones, Greg Pelc, and I were honored to be able to welcome two members of the Lacks family to the show.  David Lacks is Mrs. Lacks’ grandson, and Victoria Baptiste is her great granddaughter, and they spoke with us about their ancestor, informed consent, and their work with the National Institutes of Health on HeLa cell research guidelines.

The opinions expressed in this feed and podcast are not those of the University of Iowa or the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

To Live the Dream, You First Have To Get There.

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odd man out photo
Photo by Kumaravel

Ask “How are you?” of students in the hallways of the Carver College of Medicine, and you’ll hear them respond that they’re “living the dream.”  Okay, that’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but getting to live that dream is easier for some groups of people than it is for others. After Dave spoke to UI med student Terrance Wong about his plans to connect mentors with pre-meds who need them, especially minority pre-meds, Dave and Alison Pletch thought it’d be fun to get together with some of those very people and find out what they’re doing to prepare for medical school. What are the challenges they’ve faced? And what resources have they found to help them get there? Xavier Ferrer, Teneme Konne, and Waale Gbara–members of the University of Iowa’s Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students–join us with their personal stories. And if you are a student “underrepresented in medicine,” what have you learned on your journey to medical school? And what questions would you have asked that we forgot? Tell us!

Continue reading To Live the Dream, You First Have To Get There.

The Multiple Mini Interview, the Prince of Funk, and the Erosion of Childhood

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elderly photo
How ’bout if I come over there and shove my custom orthotics up your… Photo by Patrick Doheny

Alison Pletch, along with Cole Cheney, Aline Sandouk, and Lisa Wehr take a few moments to mourn the passing of Prince, and the fact that he died of something that wasn’t dramatic enough for his persona. Fortunately, Rayhaan of Montreal calls to ask how he can prepare for his med-school interviews, which will be in the multiple mini interviews format. Then, we discuss the idea that kids need to start preparing for medical school in high school, because children have too much childhood these days.

Continue reading The Multiple Mini Interview, the Prince of Funk, and the Erosion of Childhood

Evil But Fair Scientists, Conversion Therapy, and The (Real?) Reason Docs Remove Fewer Tumors

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mad scientist photo
Mad Dr. Stroheim was widely considered a very trustworthy murderer. Photo by glen edelson

Deep Bhatt and Alison Pletch are on their way out of medical school, and reflect on what they’ve been thinking about as they prepare to leave Iowa.  And Kaci McCleary and Corbin Weaver help them answer listener Todd’s question about the better MCAT study guides and courses, how to get a discount on those courses, and whether it’s a good idea to start studying for the test even as he begins community college.

Continue reading Evil But Fair Scientists, Conversion Therapy, and The (Real?) Reason Docs Remove Fewer Tumors

Episode 038: Changing the World Outside the Clinic

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Photo by Paolo MargariDoctors enjoy, for better or worse, and elevated social status.  How can they use that high regard, as well as their knowledge, to change the world when they’re not in the clinic?
In this episode, Alison Pletch, Zeynep Demir, Eric Wilson, and Alison Seline brainstorm some avenues from politics to journalism that docs explore when they have the itch to change the world.

The opinions expressed in this feed and podcast are not those of the University of Iowa or the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

Episode 037: Junk Science

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Junk science dominates our thoughts in this episode, our first recording in front of a live studio audience (the Introduction to Medical Education at Iowa students who were kind enough to join us).  Cole Cheney, Alison Pletch, Keenan Laraway, and Eric Wilson talked about Dr. Mehmet Oz’s recent troubles, including a New York M3 who asked the AMA and the NY Medical Association to step in.  Also, Cole drops some new research knowledge on us about why pot makes people paranoid (hint–having a researcher stand over you asking you if you’re paranoid might be another known cause of paranoia), and The Egyptian Army says it has cured HIV and hepatitis, or so they claim, using a simple point and shoot device that detects AND purifies the blood.   But it needs a leeeeetle more testing…

Listen to Episode 037: Junk Science.
Listen to more great shows for medical students on The Vocalis Podcast Network.

The opinions expressed in this feed and podcast are not those of the University of Iowa or the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

Episode 029: What Tech Makes Med School Easier?

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When you’re drinking from the firehose, you need a good straw.  This is why medical students often turn to technology to help distill everything down into something they can actually remember and use.  But buried under a mountain of technological possibilities, it’s really difficult to decide on what level of dependence on technology you’ll accept, what apps to use, what websites to trust, how to establish a workflow for studying, whether or not residents (or worse, patients) will ding you for whipping out your smartphone during rounds, how to keep all your devices charged, and how to pay for it all.

Students Alison Pletch, Jesse Van Maanen, and Cole Cheney talked about the tech they use;  what about you?  

Listen to Episode 029: What Tech Makes Med School Easier?.

The opinions expressed in this feed and podcast are not those of the University of Iowa or the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

Episode 027 – A real life Dr. House: Gurpreet Dhaliwal

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All our listeners are familiar with the archetype of the master diagnostician, probably best represented in pop culture by Dr. Greg House, the irascible, pill-popping doctor of the eponymous television series.  Every week, House put together the clues and discarded the red herrings to come up with a diagnosis that only he could have thought of.  It’s a great trick, and there are people out there who can really do it.  Some even do it for their peers, at grand rounds that are akin to displays of medical prestidigitation.

Dr. Dhaliwal does an unknown case presentation for medicine residents.

But it’s about more than tricks.  For instance, in April of this year, a Hopkins review of 25 years of malpractice claim payouts found that diagnostic errors—not surgical mistakes or medication errors—made up the largest fraction of claims, the greatest harm to patients, and the highest total payouts: almost $39 billion during that time.  All this despite the common practice of defensive testing, in which tens of billions are spent each year on unnecessary tests in the hope of protecting doctors from the possibility of lawsuits.

Our guest on this episode is Dr. Gurpreet Dhaliwal, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine.  Among Dr. Dhaliwal’s professional interests are clinical reasoning, diagnosis and diagnostic errors, and how physicians can improve in those areas.  He is also much less angry, and students Eric Wilson, Dwiju Kumar, and Alison Pletch found him a lot more fun to talk to, than Greg House.

Listen to Episode 027 – A real life Dr. House: Gurpreet Dhaliwal.

The opinions expressed in this feed and podcast are not those of the University of Iowa or the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

Episode 025: Henrietta Lacks vs. HeLa, and the People Behind the Specimens

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The efficacy of any biomedical researcher is based on his or her foundation of scientific knowledge.  Few would have any problem grasping that idea.  What’s less well understood, by both researchers and laypeople alike, are the stories of the biological materials they work with.  Often these materials are cell cultures, tissue samples, human DNA.

From left to right: Dave Etler, Eboni Jones, Victoria Baptiste, David Lacks, Alison Pletch, and Greg Pelc.

Unlike the chemicals, reagents, test tubes, and machinery used in research, these materials often come from people.  That’s easily forgotten when they can be ordered from catalogs and websites in the way of other commodities. But those people, who may no longer live among us, have stories.  In the case of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman who passed away in the early 1950s of cervical cancer, the cells taken from her without her or her families’ knowledge touched off a revolution in biomedical science. 

Henrietta and Day Lacks (From
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,”
R. Skloot, 2009)

They’ve contributed to the vaccine for polio, were the first cells to be cloned, and have been used in a number of cancer, virus, and pharmacological studies all over the world. Rebecca Skloot’s 2009 book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” noted that Mrs. Lacks’ cells have been used in more than 60,000 studies, and 300 more are being added each month.  They are of huge importance to science because they were the first so-called immortal cell line–unlike most cells, they divide and reproduce essentially without limit.  But though no-one in Henrietta Lacks’ family knew of their existence at first, the cells ultimately became of huge importance to her descendants.  In this episode, Alison Pletch, Eboni Jones, Greg Pelc, and I were honored to be able to welcome two members of the Lacks family to the show.  David Lacks is Mrs. Lacks’ grandson, and Victoria Baptiste is her great granddaughter, and they spoke with us about their ancestor, informed consent, and their work with the National Institutes of Health on HeLa cell research guidelines.

Listen now to Episode 025: Henrietta Lacks vs. HeLa, and the People Behind the Specimens

The opinions expressed in this feed and podcast are not those of the University of Iowa or the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.