Henrietta Lacks’ Estate Accuses Biotechnology Company of Selling Her Cells for Profit

Henrietta Lacks’ property sued a biotechnology firm on Monday, accusing it of promoting her cells for revenue after they have been taken from the Black lady in 1951 with out her information or consent.

Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital took cells from Lacks 70 years in the past as half of “a racially unjust medical system,” the property stated. Cells taken from Lacks’ tumor earlier than she died of cervical most cancers, often called the HeLa cells, turned the primary human cells to be efficiently cloned and have been reproduced infinitely ever since.

The federal lawsuit stated that Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., of Waltham, Massachusetts knowingly mass-produced and offered the HeLa cells that have been taken from Lacks with out consent from her or her household.

“Thermo Fisher Scientific has known that HeLa cells were stolen from Ms. Lacks and chose to use her body for profit anyway,” the lawsuit stated.

For extra reporting from the Associated Press, see beneath.

HeLa Cells Lawsuit
The property of Henrietta Lacks is suing a biotechnology firm for knowingly promoting and making the most of cells taken from her with out her consent or information by docs at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951. The HeLa cells turned the primary human cells to be efficiently cloned and have been replicated infinitely ever since.
Getty Images

“It is outrageous that this company would think that they have intellectual rights property to their grandmother’s cells. Why is it they have intellectual rights to her cells and can benefit billions of dollars when her family, her flesh and blood, her Black children, get nothing?” one of the household’s attorneys, Ben Crump, stated Monday at a information convention outdoors the federal courthouse in Baltimore.

Johns Hopkins stated it by no means offered or profited from the cell strains, however many firms have patented methods of utilizing them. Crump stated these distributors have made billions from the genetic materials “stolen” from Lacks’ physique.

Another household legal professional, Christopher Seeger, hinted at associated claims in opposition to different firms.

Thermo Fisher Scientific “shouldn’t feel too alone because they’re going to have a lot of company soon,” Seeger stated.

The lawsuit asks the court docket 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 additionally needs Thermo Fisher Scientific to be completely enjoined from utilizing HeLa cells with out the property’s permission.

On its web site, the corporate says it generates roughly $35 billion in annual income. An organization spokesman reached by phone did not instantly touch upon the lawsuit.

HeLa cells have been found to have distinctive properties. While most cell samples died shortly after being faraway from the physique, her cells survived and thrived in laboratories. This distinctive high quality made it doable to domesticate her cells indefinitely — they turned often called the primary immortalized human cell line — making it doable for scientists anyplace to breed research utilizing an identical cells.

The outstanding science concerned — and the affect on the Lacks household, some of whom suffered from continual diseases with out medical health insurance — have been documented in a 2010 bestselling guide, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Oprah Winfrey portrayed Lacks’ daughter in an HBO film in regards to the story. The lawsuit was filed precisely 70 years after the day she died, on October 4, 1951.

“The exploitation of Henrietta Lacks represents the unfortunately common struggle experienced by Black people throughout history,” the swimsuit 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.”

Shobita Parthasarathy, a University of Michigan professor of public coverage who has researched points round mental property in biotechnology, stated the lawsuit comes at a time when Lacks’ household is more likely to have a sympathetic viewers for their claims.

“We are at a second, not simply after the homicide of George Floyd but in addition the pandemic, the place we’ve seen structural racism in motion in all types of locations,” she stated. “We keep talking about a racial reckoning, and that racial reckoning is happening in science and medicine, as well.”

Parthasarathy stated the case additionally comes amid revelations about how tech firms are making the most of mining prospects’ information.

“I think it’s raising questions for all of us about whether or not our structures of informed consent are adequate to deal with the realities of how data is being taken from us and used either to sell us things or to make companies money,” she stated.

A gaggle of white docs at Johns Hopkins within the Fifties preyed on Black girls with cervical most cancers, chopping away tissue samples from their sufferers’ cervixes with out their sufferers’ information or consent, the lawsuit stated.

Johns Hopkins Medicine stated it reviewed its interactions with Lacks and her household over greater than 50 years after the 2010 publication Rebecca Skloot’s guide. It stated 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,” nevertheless it has acknowledged an moral duty.

“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 Medicine stated on its web site.

Crump, a Florida-based civil rights legal professional, has risen to nationwide prominence representing the households of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd — Black folks whose deaths by the hands of police and vigilantes helped revitalize a nationwide motion towards police reform and racial justice.

Seeger, a New Jersey-based company litigator, has represented 1000’s of former NFL gamers in a category motion settlement over concussions and was a lead negotiator of Volkswagen’s $21 billion diesel emissions settlement with automotive homeowners.

Thermo Fisher Scientific
The property of Henrietta Lacks sued a biotechnology firm on Monday, October 4, 2021, that it says has been promoting cells that docs at Johns Hopkins took from the Black lady from Maryland in 1951 with out her information or consent. This April 26, 2007, file picture, exhibits the outside of Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., in Waltham, Massachusetts.
Stephan Savoia, File/AP Photo

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