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Henrietta Lacks estate sues the company over the use of its cells


The estate of Henrietta Lacks sued a pharmaceutical company on Monday, saying it is selling her cervical cells without her knowledge or consent.

COLLEGE PARK, MD — The estate of Henrietta Lacks sued a pharmaceutical company Monday, accusing Johns Hopkins Hospital doctors of selling cells to a black woman in 1951 without her knowledge or consent.

Cells taken from a woman who died of cervical cancer, known as HeLa cells, have since been reproduced asynchronously, in countless scientific and medical innovations including the development of the polio vaccine and gene mapping. is used to.

The HeLa cell line, which “became the first human cell successfully cloned and has been used continuously since then” for research, has touched almost every area of ​​medicine, the estate’s lawyers said in a news release.

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

The lawsuit asks the court in Baltimore to order Thermo Fisher Scientific “to liquidate the full amount of its net profit derived from the commercialization of the HeLa cell line to the assets of Henrietta Lacks.” It also seeks an order permanently barring Thermo Fisher Scientific from using the HeLa cell line without the estate’s permission.

On its website, the company says it generates about $35 billion in annual revenue. A spokesperson for the company did not immediately comment on the lawsuit.

The remarkable science – and impact on the Lax family – is documented in a bestselling book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Oprah Winfrey portrayed her daughter in the HBO film about the story.

The lawsuit says that in the 1950s a group of white doctors at Johns Hopkins hunted black women with cervical cancer, cutting tissue samples from their patients’ cervixes.

“The exploitation of Henrietta Lacks represents an unfortunately common struggle experienced by black people throughout history,” the suit says. “Indeed, black suffering has fueled myriad medical advances and benefits without any compensation or recognition. Various studies, both documented and undocumented, have promoted the dehumanization of black people.”

Among the lawyers for the family estate is Florida-based civil rights attorney Ben Crump. Crump rose to national prominence 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 sparked a national movement toward police reform and racial justice. helped revive it.

Johns Hopkins says she reviewed her interactions with Lacks and her family more than 50 years after the 2010 publication of Rebecca Schlott’s book.

“At several points in those decades, we found that Johns Hopkins should have done more to inform and work with Henrietta Lacks’ family members about her, her privacy, and respect for her personal interests,” said Johns. Hopkins says on its website.

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Henrietta Lacks estate sues the company over the use of its cells