The family of Henrietta Lacks has reached a settlement with a biotechnology company for the unauthorized use of her cervical cells.
In 1951, doctors at John Hopkins Hospital illegally took and harvested Henrietta’s cervical cells without her knowledge.
The tissue taken from her tumor before she died of cervical cancer became the first human cells to continuously grow and reproduce in lab dishes.
HeLa cells went on to 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 the incalculable impact of her cells, the Lacks family had never been compensated.
Henrietta Lacks, who was a mother of five, died at the age of 31 in the “colored ward” of John Hopkins Hospital.
She was buried in an unmarked grave.
The Lacks family, represented by Attorney Benjamin Crump, filed a lawsuit in 2021 arguing that Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., of Waltham, Massachusetts, continued to commercialize the results long after the origins of the HeLa cell line became well known.
The company unjustly enriched itself off Lacks’ cells, the family argued in their lawsuit.
Following closed-door negotiations that lasted all day on Monday inside the federal courthouse in Baltimore, a settlement was reached – a day before Henrietta Lacks’ birthday.
The terms of the settlement are confidential.
In a joint statement, Thermo Fisher representatives and attorneys for the Lacks family said they were pleased to resolve the matter and declined to comment further on the agreement.
Watch the “CBS Mornings” report below.
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” the bestselling book by Rebecca Skloot, documented the remarkable science involved and the impact on the Lacks family.
I am very happy for Henrietta Lacks’ family.
Source: AP News & CBS Mornings