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Henrietta Lacks’ estate says pharma company profited from stolen cells By Reuters


© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: Ben Crump, a lawyer, speaks at the Black Lives Matter rally for Anthony McClain’s family in Pasadena California on May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Christian Monterrosa/File Photo

By Blake Brittain

(Reuters). The estate of a Black woman whose cervix was removed from her years ago, without her consent, sued a pharmaceutical firm on Monday. They claimed it made a conscious choice to mass-produce the cells in order to profit from a racist medical system.

According to a lawsuit in Maryland, the estate of Henrietta Lacks has not “seen one dime” from the income Thermo Fisher Scientific (NYSE) earned from cultivating HeLa cells that were taken from Lacks at Johns Hopkins Hospital back in 1951.

“The exploit of Henrietta Lacks reflects the unfortunate common struggle faced by Black people in America throughout history.” The suit states that Black suffering has been the catalyst for medical advancement and profit without the need to be compensated or recognized.

Thermo Fisher, Waltham Massachusetts, didn’t respond immediately to our request for comment.

Lacks’ estate will be represented by Ben Crump. Crump has been a civil-rights attorney and also represented Trayvon Martin and George Floyd’s families after their deaths.

Ron Lacks is Henrietta’s great-grandson and executor.

Lacks’ story was chronicled in the 2010 best-selling book and the 2017 film both titled “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”

According to the lawsuit, the tissue for HeLa was obtained from Lacks at Johns Hopkins as part of a treatment she received to treat cervical cancer. She became infertile after the procedure.

Lacks died from cancer in later years of the same year.

The HeLa-line, which is the first HeLa to live and reproduce indefinitely in laboratory conditions since the vaccine was developed, has been utilized to research radiation’s effects on cells in humans, as well as to create a treatment for sickle cell anemia.

The lawsuit asks for the court’s approval to award Lacks estate the HeLa-related profits, and also permanently stop Thermo Fisher from using the HeLa lines without permission.

Thermo Fisher Scientific has the right to claim the ill-gotten gains of Thermo Fisher Scientific, simply because it chose to profit from Henrietta Lacks’ assault. The lawsuit claims that Lacks is the estate.

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