Henrietta Lacks estate sues pharmaceutical company Thermo Fisher Scientific for selling its HeLa cells without consent
Henrietta Lacks’ estate is suing Thermo Fisher Scientific, a pharmaceutical company, a family lawyer said on Monday. The lawsuit accuses the company of taking advantage of a line of cells that doctors took from Lacks, a black woman who died of cervical cancer, without her consent in 1951. The cells of Lacks were harvested by a doctor from Johns Hopkins Hospital upon his arrival. be treated for cancer. His cells were unique, able to continuously divide and live in a viable way outside of his body. The properties of the HeLa lineage allowed researchers to experiment with them, leading to medical breakthroughs in polio, radiation sickness, and sickle cell disease, among other diseases.
Ben Crump, the civil rights lawyer representing the Lacks estate, said Monday that Thermo Fisher had made a “conscious choice” to mass produce the cells, taking advantage of a “racially unfair medical system”. Crump, known to have represented the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, added that the 1951 proceedings left Lacks infertile. It wasn’t until decades later that her family learned her cells had been taken, and the estate had never “seen a dime” of the money earned from medical advances. The lawsuit will seek to attribute profits from the HeLa line to the estate and prohibit Thermo Fisher from using it in the future without permission.