Skip to main content

KNOXVILLE—“Legality and Ethics: Research and the Legacy of Henrietta Lacks at UTK” will be the topic of a Life of the Mind panel discussion on Thursday, September 8.

The hour-long panel discussion, which begins at 5:30 p.m., will be held in the Alumni Memorial Building auditorium.

Life of the Mind is a common reading experience that gives first-year students their initial taste of academic life at UT Knoxville. This year, for the first time, Life of the Mind is part of FYS 100, a zero-credit, pass-fail course for all first-year students.

This year’s book is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, an award-winning science writer. It’s the story of an African-American woman whose cervical cancer cells, taken during a biopsy and cultured without her knowledge or permission in the 1950s, have been integral in developing the polio vaccine, unlocking secrets of cancer and viruses, helping understand the effects of the atom bomb, and contributing to the development of in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping. The cells are known as HeLa, a name derived from the initial letters of her first and last names.

Four panel discussions related to the book have been planned, and students must attend at least one to fulfill FYS 100 requirements.

The first panel discussion, held on August 18, drew more than 549 students. More than 900 students have RSVP’d for the second panel.

The September 8 panel will focus on legality and ethics in research. It will be moderated by Glenn Graber, professor of philosophy and chair of UT’s Institutional Review Board, a role which requires him to be well-versed in biomedical ethics, ethics in health care, religion and professional ethics, the ethics of cloning and suicide, and the allocation of health-care resources. A UT faculty member for 40 years, Graber has taught several thousand undergraduates, hundreds of graduates, and chaired dozens of theses and dissertations.

Panelists include:

  • Dr. Paul Erwin, director of the Department of Public Health at the University of Tennessee. Erwin is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and public health and preventive medicine and also has a master’s degree and doctorate in public health. Prior to coming to UT in 2007, he worked with the Tennessee Department of Health for sixteen years, the last twelve years of those as director of the East Tennessee Regional Health Office.
  • Catherine Crawley, communications coordinator for NIMBioS, the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, an organization promoting interdisciplinary approaches to research. She is key organizer of the “Research Experience for Veterinary Students” program that gives undergraduates majoring in math, biology, veterinary science, and related fields the chance to work with UT professors during the summer on various research projects.
  • Annette Mendola, a lecturer in the department of philosophy, specializing in bioethics and clinical ethics. Prior to graduate school, she worked in the inpatient psychiatric division of a small county hospital in upstate New York, an experience which sparked her interest in bioethics, especially clinical ethics and mental health ethics. Today she is an active member of the Ethics Committee at UT Medical Center and teaches ethics classes for Medical Explorations, a pre-health program at UTMC. Her teaching interests include clinical ethics education, feminism, and all areas of practical ethics.
  • Brenda Lawson, a compliance officer and administrator of the Institutional Review Board that regulates all research activities involving human subjects on the UT Knoxville Campus.

The third panel, on September 20, will be linked to the fiftieth anniversary of African-American undergraduates being admitted to UT. It will focus on how people with diverse backgrounds have made important contributions to the advancement of diversity and inclusivity on campus. Moderated by Rita Geier, senior fellow at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy and associate to the chancellor, the panel will include Charles Houston, chair of the fiftieth anniversary committee; Amadou Sall, lecturer in Africana Studies; and Loida Velazquez, Hispanic community leader.

The final panel discussion will be held on October 18. It will focus on UT research and how undergraduates can get involved. Moderated by Mark Littmann, professor of journalism and electronic media, the panel will include Sharon Pound from the Office of Research and a number of undergraduates, some who are actively involved in HeLa cell research.

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,