Estate of Henrietta Lacks sues biotechnical company for nonconsensual use of her cells

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CNN 05 October, 2021 - 12:03am 9 views

The cells taken from Lacks, a Black woman who died of cervical cancer, are known has HeLa cells and have been reproduced ever since, used in scientific and medical innovations including the development of the polio vaccine and gene mapping.

The “HeLa cell line became the first human cells successfully cloned” and have since been used continually “for research that has touched nearly every realm of medicine”, lawyers for the estate said in a news release.

Thermo Fisher Scientific, of Waltham, Massachusetts, knowingly mass-produced and sold tissue that was taken from Lacks by doctors at the hospital and “a racially unjust medical system”, the federal lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit asks the court in Baltimore to order Thermo Fisher Scientific to “disgorge the full amount of its net profits obtained by commercializing the HeLa cell line to the Estate of Henrietta Lacks”.

It also seeks an order permanently enjoining Thermo Fisher Scientific from using the HeLa cell line without the estate’s permission.

On its website, the company says it generates approximately $35bn in annual revenue. A company spokesperson reached did not immediately comment on the lawsuit.

The remarkable science – and the impact on the Lacks family – have been documented in a bestselling book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Oprah Winfrey portayed Lacks’ daughter in an HBO movie about the story.

According to the new lawsuit, a group of white doctors at Johns Hopkins in the 1950s preyed on Black women with cervical cancer, cutting away tissue samples from their cervixes without knowledge or consent.

“The exploitation of Henrietta Lacks represents the unfortunately common struggle experienced by Black people throughout history,” the suit says. “Indeed, Black suffering has fueled innumerable medical progress and profit, without just compensation or recognition. Various studies, both documented and undocumented, have thrived off the dehumanization of Black people.”

Johns Hopkins says it reviewed its interactions with Lacks and her family over more than 50 years after the publication of Rebecca Skloot’s book in 2010.

“At several points across those decades, we found that Johns Hopkins could have – and should have – done more to inform and work with members of Henrietta Lacks’ family out of respect for them, their privacy and their personal interests,” Johns Hopkins says on its website.

Read full article at CNN

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