Waltham, Massachusetts-based biotech company Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., has settled with the descendants of Henrietta Lacks over the unauthorized use of her cervical cells over 70 years after her death.
Lacks’ cells taken from tissue inside a tumor before she died of cervical cancer became the first human cells to be successfully cloned. The “HeLa” cells reproduced infinitely ever since have become groundbreaking in modern medicine. Those cells have been used in decades of medical research and development including both polio and Covid-19 vaccines and even genetic mapping.
The problem is that the cells from Lacks’ were taken in 1951 without her consent while having made various biotech and medical companies billions of dollars in commercial revenue. According to reports, HeLa cells can sell for over $2,000/ml and have contributed to Thermo Fisher’s annual revenue of over $35 billion per year.
Civil Rights attorney Ben Crump said that though the terms of the agreement are confidential, all parties involved were satisfied with the end result. “The parties are pleased that they were able to find a way to resolve this matter outside of Court and will have no further comment about the settlement,” Crump said in a statement.
The family of Lacks did not know about the use of her cells until 1973 when scientists asked for blood samples to study their genes according to the best-selling book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” which was turned into a 2017 HBO movie starring Oprah Winfrey.
Link: NBC News