Immortal Cells and Neuroplasticity


switchonyourbrainI am a closet science nerd. I admit it. How things work and how things are discovered intrigues me. I love the “story” of things. So occasionally I pick up a scientific book or two. (Okay, they usually have something to do with a damsel in distress in 1800s England, but not always.)

I am reading two fascinating books right now that have science as the main character. Neither are my usual nighttime reading, but I am finding it hard to put either down once I pick it up. (Which is why I’m writing a blog post after midnight.)

The first one is Switch On Your Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf. I have been reading this with a group of friends around the country. We Skype once a week to discuss a chapter or two. Basically the book is about the science of the brain and the support for that science in Scripture. Dr. Leaf explains how we can detox our brains, leaving toxic thoughts behind by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). She explains how repeated negative thoughts (stinkin’ thinkin’) can actually cause brain damage. And how neuroplasticity allows us to heal our brains by changing how we think. Mind blown. Even though there are some complex theories and medical terminology, it is surprisingly easy to follow and understand…and just flat out liberating.

HenriettaLacksThe other book is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This book has my mouth hanging open in astonishment from time to time. It is crisscrossed with the true story of how the cells from Henrietta have multiplied into life saving discoveries (polio, AIDS, HPV vaccines are examples) that have made billions of dollars for the medical industry, and the reality of her poverty stricken family who had no idea that the experimentation of Henrietta’s cells was going on. After her death, her family knew very little about why Henrietta died and nothing about cancer cells taken from her cervix—the immortal HeLa cells. They  did not understand the information when it was finally given to them. I find myself vacillating between outrage and fascination as the story unfolds. Skloot is a journalist who tells the story with sensitivity and dedication. I highly recommend this book. It is a bestselling, award-winning book that tells the tale of how a poor woman who died in 1951 is affecting your life today. (The story of the Lacks family and science continues. See here.)

Reading these two books at the same time have me pondering things. One is about how negative thoughts multiply to take over our brains and cause disease and distress. The other is about cancer cells that divide more rapidly than just about any other cells on earth. Why is it that bad multiplies quickly while good steadily marches forward?

Think about it. A bad attitude creates other bad attitudes. Whereas a good attitude sometimes inspires another good attitude. But just as often we want to smack the bouncy happy person humming in the hallway—especially if it is before we have our morning coffee. 🙂

What both books have in common is the concept that bad can be used for good. We can capture bad thoughts, turn them around to their positive counterparts, and use that to change how we think and rewire our brains. The cancer cells that killed Henrietta have gone on to contribute to the treatment and eradication of diseases. Without her cancer there would not have been immortal cells to use in testing. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28 NIV). We don’t understand it. It doesn’t always make sense. But he uses the bad for our good, no matter how fast the bad multiplies.



4 responses »

  1. I don’t mean to be picky but the scripture verse near the end of your new post is Romans 8:28, just in case someone looks it up. I don’t know if you can change it or not now.

    Love, Mom



  2. Good thoughts as always. I have to admit that I’m of 2 minds on the part from Dr. Leaf (not the first time I’ve run into that line of thinking). It’s hard not to recognize the value in trying to be positive / optimistic just generally – the neuroplasticity argument just adds fuel to that fire. On the other hand, though, I’ve found that, factually, it’s really easy to overdo optimism and the disappointment when things don’t turn out that way is almost as bad as the negativity. This is one where I admit I haven’t come up with a good answer – which is why I probably score “realist” on all those fb quizes.


    • We have the same kind of discussions in my small group. What about God’s sovereignty? What about messed up brain chemicals? We didn’t have answers either but it made for good conversation and soul searching for all of us. That is always a positive in my book.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s