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Woman Skips Round of Chemo to Help Cancer Research

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A Tale of Two Women continued...

Koss' breast cancer cells are similar in their potency to Lacks' cervical cancer cells, Jones says.

But there is a big difference between Henrietta Lacks and Koss.

Lacks' cells were cultured and reproduced without her knowledge or consent, and were later exploited by medical institutions and companies. It's been pointed out, though, that patient consent was not commonplace at the time.

One of the consequences of the publicity created by the book was a "unique agreement" reached in 2013 between the National Institutes of Health and the Lacks family.

Any successful cell line from Koss would not be exploitive or without consent. It was her idea.

'An Opportunity We Did Not Have Before'

Koss suggested entrusting her tumor cells to Jones, her former colleague, when he visited her in an oncology critical care unit.

"Dr. Jones is absolutely the smartest researcher I've ever met," Koss says. "I trust him on every level."

Jones and Koss control the rights to her cells. In the next 6 months or so, Jones and his Loyola team should know if the cells can live on in lab cultures.

There is an outstanding need for more immortal breast cancer cell lines, Jones says.

Cancer cell lines are valuable because they aid basic research and set the stage for clinical advancements, Jones says.

In the case of triple-negative breast cancer, basic questions are unanswered, such as the source of the cells' abnormality, rapid growth, and invasiveness.

The development of cancer cell lines has entered a new era, Jones suggests. And Koss' contribution takes advantage of that.

He explains that technologic advancements now allow for more thorough analysis of a tumor. Researchers "can therefore repeat these analyses in the cell lines to confirm their gene structure and expression," he says.

The result is better scientific evidence.

"This will allow us to confirm that the cell lines used for study reflect the actual tumor tissue the way it was in the body, before it was extracted," he says. "This is an opportunity we did not have before."

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