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History Book - A medical research milestone


WORLD Radio - History Book - A medical research milestone

Plus: The debut of a mainstay musical, and the death of a Silicon Valley icon

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NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday October 4th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Next up: The WORLD History Book. Today, a farewell to a Silicon Valley icon, the debut of a mainstay musical, and human cells that just won’t quit. Here’s senior correspondent Katie Gaultney.

KATIE GAULTNEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: A Maryland woman died 70 years ago of cancer. But her cells lived on. Trillions of them.

Henrietta Lacks had complained for years of a pain in her abdomen that felt like a knot. Doctors dismissed her. Eventually, Lacks—a black woman—received quality medical care from Johns Hopkins University. That was one of the few leading hospitals serving African Americans.

Her doctor found something: a strange tumor he described as looking like “grape jelly.” Johns Hopkins scientist George Gey studied it and noted its unusual characteristics. A video for Ted-Ed explains:

TED-ED: Some of its cells just kept dividing, and dividing, and dividing. When individual cells died, generations of copies took their place, and thrived!

Scientists had tried to achieve those results in the lab before—keeping cell lines alive—but even the best samples always died out after a few days. Gey named the cell line “HeLa,” after its source, Henrietta Lacks.

Sadly, Lacks died of cervical cancer on October 4, 1951, at age 31—just a few months after they biopsied that tumor. But her so-called “immortal cells” continued to play an important role in medical research. Jonas Salk used HeLa cells in the development of the polio vaccine.

A 2010 book and 2017 HBO movie raised HeLa’s public profile. The family never consented to the harvesting of Lacks’ cells. Some family members wanted compensation. Others were concerned for Henrietta’s privacy. Ultimately, her family reached an agreement with the National Institutes of Health to have more control over access to Lacks’ DNA sequencing data. A relative spoke to NBC News:

NBC: You can’t help but be proud of what’s been done. So it’s like okay, something bad happened, but so much good has come from it.

From science to music.

SONG: “Phantom of the Opera,” Original London Cast

It’s been 35 years since Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera haunted the theater scene for the first time. It opened in London’s West End on October 9, 1986.

As the longest-running show in Broadway history, Phantom’s plot is well known: A masked musical genius lurks in the shadows of the Paris Opera House and becomes obsessed with a young soprano.

SONG: “Music of the Night,” Original London Cast

Theater critics are often put off by a torrent of publicity, but they largely hailed Lloyd Webber’s much-anticipated new musical as indisputably entertaining.


That original production ran in the West End for nearly 14,000 performances, and over 10,000 performances on Broadway. Worldwide receipts total over $6 billion.

We opened with the death of a medical marvel; and we’ll close with the passing of a tech titan. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died 10 years ago, on October 5, 2011.

But before he was the brains behind Apple and Pixar, he was the adopted son of Northern California couple Paul and Clara Jobs. He didn’t fit in with kids his age, so the classroom was a slog for the young Jobs. But, his schooling connected him with an older classmate, Steve Wozniak, with whom he would later found personal computer company Apple.

Jobs dropped out of college, drawn to the hippie lifestyle. His old friend Woz steered him toward the emerging field of personal computers.

JOBS: We showed it to our friends and they all wanted one. We were busy making these computers for our friends by hand…

They attracted investors, and eventually their garage tinkering turned them into millionaires. When Jobs was just 25, his net worth was $200 million.

Decades of more innovation and money—and boardroom clashes—followed. Jobs rode business highs, like founding cutting-edge animation outlet Pixar, and business lows, like his ouster from Apple. Talking to 60 Minutes, Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson described the entrepreneur’s sometimes prickly persona.

ISAACSON: He could be very, very mean to people at times, and whether it was to a waitress in a restaurant or a guy who stayed up all night coding, he could just really go at them and say, “You’re doing this all wrong, it’s horrible!”

Jobs started a family, and eventually returned in 1996 to Apple, where he would begin the i-era—iTunes, iPhoto, iPod, iPhone...

JOBS: This is one device. And we are calling it iPhone...

For all of his lightning-speed technologies, health woes slowed him down. Speaking at Stanford University’s commencement in 2005, Jobs reflected on his first bout with cancer, and how it reframed his view of life and death.

JOBS: Death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.

He died of cancer at age 56 at his Palo Alto home.

SONG: Apple “Think Different” commercial music

That’s this week’s History Book. I’m Katie Gaultney.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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