Henrietta Lacks' estate sues company over use of her cells
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — The estate of Henrietta Lacks sued a pharmaceutical company on Monday, accusing it of selling cells that doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital took from the Black woman in 1951 without her knowledge or consent.
The cells taken from the woman who died of cervical cancer, known has HeLa cells, have been reproduced infinitely ever since, used in countless 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 Inc., 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,” her estate's 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 $35 billion in annual revenue. A company spokesman reached didn’t 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 her daughter in an HBO movie about the story.
A group of white doctors at Johns Hopkins in the 1950s preyed on Black women with cervical cancer, cutting away tissue samples from their patients’ cervixes...