UNITED STATES NEWS

Thermo Fisher Scientific settles with family of Henrietta Lacks, whose HeLa cells uphold medicine

Aug 1, 2023, 6:58 AM | Updated: 7:10 am

BALTIMORE (AP) — More than 70 years after doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital took Henrietta Lacks’ cervical cells without her knowledge, a lawyer for her descendants said they have reached a settlement with a biotechnology company they sued in 2021, accusing its leaders of reaping billions of dollars from a racist medical system.

Tissue taken from the Black woman’s tumor before she died of cervical cancer became the first human cells to be successfully cloned. Reproduced infinitely ever since, HeLa cells have become a cornerstone of modern medicine, enabling countless scientific and medical innovations, including the development of the polio vaccine, genetic mapping and even COVID-19 vaccines.

Despite that incalculable impact, the Lacks family had never been compensated.

Doctors harvested Lacks’ cells in 1951, long before the advent of consent procedures used in medicine and scientific research today, but lawyers for her family argued that Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., of Waltham, Massachusetts, has continued to commercialize the results well after the origins of the HeLa cell line became well known.

The settlement agreement came after closed-door negotiations that lasted all day Monday inside the federal courthouse in Baltimore. Several members of the Lacks family were in on the talks.

Attorney Ben Crump, who represents the Lacks family, announced the settlement late Monday. He said the terms of the agreement are confidential.

“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.

HeLa cells were discovered to have unique properties. While most cell samples died shortly after being removed from the body, her cells survived and thrived in laboratories. This exceptional quality made it possible to cultivate her cells indefinitely — they became known as the first immortalized human cell line — making it possible for scientists anywhere to reproduce studies using identical cells.

The remarkable science involved — and the impact on the Lacks family, some of whom suffered from chronic illnesses without health insurance — were documented in a bestselling book by Rebecca Skloot, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” and Oprah Winfrey portrayed her daughter in an HBO movie about the story.

Lacks was 31 when she died and was buried in an unmarked grave. A poor tobacco farmer from southern Virginia, she was raising five children when doctors discovered a tumor in her cervix and saved a sample of her cancer cells collected during a biopsy.

Johns Hopkins said it never sold or profited from the cell lines, but many companies have patented ways of using them.

In their complaint, Lacks’ grandchildren and other descendants argued that her treatment illustrates a much larger issue that persists into the present day: racism inside the American medical system.

“The exploitation of Henrietta Lacks represents the unfortunately common struggle experienced by Black people throughout history,” the complaint reads. “Too often, the history of medical experimentation in the United States has been the history of medical racism.”

Thermo Fisher argued the case should be dismissed because it was filed after the statute of limitations expired, but attorneys for the family said that shouldn’t apply because the company is continuously benefitting from the cells.

In a statement posted to their website, Johns Hopkins Medicine officials said they reviewed all interactions with Lacks and her family after the 2010 publication of Skloot’s book. While acknowledging an ethical responsibility, it said the medical system “has never sold or profited from the discovery or distribution of HeLa cells and does not own the rights to the HeLa cell line,” while also acknowledging an ethical responsibility.

Crump, a civil rights attorney, has become well known for representing victims of police violence and calling for racial justice, especially in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.

Last week, U.S. senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, both Maryland Democrats, introduced a bill to posthumously award Lacks the Congressional Gold Medal.

“Henrietta Lacks changed the course of modern medicine,” Van Hollen said in a statement announcing the bill. “It is long past time that we recognize her life-saving contributions to the world.”

United States News

Associated Press

3 Columbia University administrators put on leave over alleged text exchange at antisemitism panel

NEW YORK (AP) — Columbia University said it has placed three administrators on leave while it investigates allegations that they exchanged unprofessional text messages while attending a panel discussion about antisemitism on campus. The university said the administrators work for its undergraduate Columbia College, which hosted the panel discussion “Jewish Life on Campus: Past, Present […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

Man charged in shooting that critically wounded Philadelphia officer, police say

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A 36-year-old Philadelphia man was charged Sunday with attempted murder in connection with a shooting that critically wounded a police officer after a traffic stop, police said. Ramon Rodriguez Vazquez also faces charges that include aggravated assault and home invasion, police said. The 31-year-old officer and his partner stopped a car carrying […]

8 hours ago

Associated Press

California boy, 4, who disappeared from campground found safe after 22 hours alone in wilderness

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A 4-year-old California boy who wandered away from a campground in the Sierra National Forest was found safe after spending 22 hours alone in the wilderness, authorities said. A search-and-rescue team of about 50 officers and volunteers set out around 11 a.m. Thursday after the child was reported missing from the […]

10 hours ago

Associated Press

One man died and five others were hospitalized in downtown St. Louis shooting

ST. LOUIS (AP) — One man is dead and five others have been wounded in a downtown St. Louis shooting, police said. Police believe women were fighting in a park when men interfered and drew firearms, according to social media posts from the agency. The man who died was in his mid-twenties, police said. Five […]

10 hours ago

Associated Press

Michigan sheriff’s deputy fatally shot pursuing a stolen vehicle in Detroit

DETROIT (AP) — A Michigan county sheriff’s deputy was fatally shot while pursing a suspected stolen vehicle in Detroit, the Oakland County sheriff’s office said Sunday. Bradley J. Reckling, who was on duty in an unmarked car, was following a 2022 Chevy Equinox Saturday evening after the vehicle was reported stolen earlier in the day […]

10 hours ago

Associated Press

Triple-shooting suspect captured after intensive search across Colorado farmland

ALAMOSA, Colorado (AP) — The suspect in a shooting that left one person dead and two others with critical injuries was captured Sunday following an intensive search across a huge area of southern Colorado. Officers went door to door as aircraft searched overhead for Henry Corral, 44, who authorities said had taken off on foot […]

10 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.

...

DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

Thermo Fisher Scientific settles with family of Henrietta Lacks, whose HeLa cells uphold medicine