Henrietta Lacks’ heirs sued a biotech company Monday, accusing it of selling cells that doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital took from the black woman in 1951 without her knowledge or consent as part of “a racially unjust medical system.”
The estate’s federal lawsuit says Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., of Waltham, Massachusetts, knowingly produced and mass-sold tissue that was taken from Lacks by doctors at the hospital.
HeLa cells harvested from the woman’s tumor before she died of cervical cancer became the first human cells to be successfully cloned and have reproduced endlessly ever since. They have been used in countless scientific and medical innovations, including polio vaccine development and gene mapping.
The cells for the deficiencies were harvested and developed long before the advent of consent procedures used in medicine and scientific research today, but the family’s attorneys say the company has continued to commercialize the results long after they were released. know the origins of the HeLa cell line.
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“Thermo Fisher Scientific has learned that the HeLa cells were stolen from Ms. Lacks and decided to use her body for profit anyway,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit asks the Baltimore court to order Thermo Fisher Scientific to “return the full amount of its net proceeds from marketing the HeLa cell line to the Estate of Henrietta Lacks.” It is also seeking an order permanently prohibiting Thermo Fisher Scientific from using the HeLa cell line without permission from the property.
On its website, the company says it generates approximately $ 35 billion in annual revenue. A company spokesperson contacted did not immediately comment on the lawsuit.
HeLa cells were found to have unique properties. While most of the cell samples died shortly after being removed from the body, their cells survived and thrived in laboratories. This exceptional quality made it possible to grow their cells indefinitely (they became known as the first immortalized human cell line), making it possible for scientists anywhere to replicate studies using identical cells.
The remarkable science involved, and the impact on the Lacks family, some of whom suffered from chronic illnesses without health insurance, have been documented in a best-selling book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Oprah Winfrey played her daughter in an HBO movie about the story. The lawsuit was filed exactly 70 years after the day of his death, October 4. February 4, 1951.
A group of white doctors at Johns Hopkins in the 1950s preyed on black women with cervical cancer, cutting tissue samples from their patients ‘cervix without their patients’ knowledge or consent, the lawsuit says.
“The exploitation of Henrietta Lacks represents the sadly common struggle experienced by blacks throughout history,” the lawsuit says. “In fact, the suffering of blacks has fueled countless medical advances and earnings, without just compensation or recognition. Various studies, both documented and undocumented, have thrived on the dehumanization of blacks.”
Among the family estate attorneys is Ben Crump, a Florida-based civil rights attorney. Crump rose to national fame in recent years for representing the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, black people whose deaths at the hands of police and vigilantes helped reinvigorate a national movement toward police reform. and racial justice.
Johns Hopkins Medicine says it reviewed his interactions with Lacks and his family for more than 50 years after the 2010 publication of Rebecca Skloot’s book. It says that it “has never sold or profited from the discovery or distribution of HeLa cells and does not own the rights to the HeLa cell line,” but has acknowledged an ethical responsibility.
“At various times throughout those decades, we discovered that Johns Hopkins could have done, and should have done, more to inform and work with members of the Henrietta Lacks family out of respect for them, their privacy, and their personal interests.” , Johns Hopkins Medicine says on its website.