Family of black woman hailed as ‘mother of modern medicine’ to sue company for ‘stealing her cells’ – The Voice Online

Posted: October 11, 2021 at 10:17 am

THE FAMILY of an African American woman whose cervical cells were taken from her seventy years ago without her knowledge or consent, are to sue a pharmaceutical company it alleges profited from her stolen tissue.

HenriettaLackswasa young motherwhodiedin 1951after being diagnosed with cervical cancer.

During surgery, a sample of her cells was taken from the tumour and sent to a laboratory where they were found to be thefirst living human cells ever to survive and multiply outside the human body.

The cells taken from Lacks are known as HeLa cells and have been reproduced ever since, used in scientific and medical innovations including the development of the polio vaccine and gene mapping.

The HeLa cell line became the first human cells successfully cloned and have since been used for research in nearly every area of modern medicine including the development of the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, gene-mapping, IVF and cloning.

The Lacks family have publicly announced their intention to sue biotechnology company Thermo Fisher Scientific.

They say the company commercially exploited Henrietta Lacks cells which were taken by doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951 where she was being treated for cervical cancer without her knowledge or consent as part of a racially unjust medical system.

The lawsuit alleges that In the last several years Thermo Fisher Scientific has made staggering profits in the tens of millions of dollars by using the HeLa cell line all while Ms Lacks estate and family havent seen a dime of it.

The family is being represented by civil rights lawyer Ben Crump who also represented the families of George Floyd, Michael Brown after their deaths.

It is outrageous that this company would think that they have intellectual rights property to their grandmothers cells Crump said during a news conference. Why is it they have intellectual rights to her cells and can benefit billions of dollars when her family, her flesh and blood, her black children, get nothing?

Lacks cells were harvested and developed long before the advent of consent procedures used in medicine and scientific research today, but lawyers for her family say 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.

While acknowledging the concerns of the family in a statement Johns Hopkins said that at the time there was no established practice for informing or obtaining consent from cell or tissue donors.

One of Henrietta Lacks grandsons, Lawrence Lacks Jr., said the family is united behind the case.

Its about time, said another grandson, Ron Lacks. Seventy years later, we mourn Henrietta Lacks, and we will celebrate taking back control of Henrietta Lacks legacy. This will not be passed on to another generation of Lackses.

News of the lawsuit comes as a life-size bronze statue of Henrietta Lacks was unveiled in Bristol last week.

The statue, commissioned by the University of Bristol earlier this year,is thework of Bristol artist HelenWilson-Roe. It is the first public statue of a black woman made by a black woman to be permanently installed in the UK.

It follows the exhibiting of two of Helens portraits ofHenriettaLacksand Cllr Cleo Lake, Bristols first black female Lord Mayor, which have been on display in the Wills Memorial Buildingsince October2020.

This year marks the 70thanniversary since Lacks untimely death in October 1951.

The university is collaborating with theLacks family-ledHELA 100: TheHenriettaLacksInitiative, which began during her centennial year and features aworldwide education and advocacy tour.

Her sonLawrenceLacks, who was 17 when his mother passed away was present for the unveiling. He was joined by her grandson Alan Wilks and his wife Pam, granddaughter JeriLacks-Whye and great-granddaughters Victoria Baptiste and Veronica Robinson.

Jeri Lacks-Whye said:As the worldcommemorates 70 years sinceHenriettaLacks HeLa cells changed the world,we also reflect on my grandmothers untimely passing. It is only fitting that she be memorialised to educate future generations on her legacy and the importance of advancing health equity and social justice for all.TheLacksFamily is honoured to begin our HELA100 worldwide tour with the University of Bristol and Helen Wilson Roe for the unveiling of this historic statue.

Wilson-Roe said: Henriettas statue will be the first public statue of a black woman made by a black woman in the UK and will be installed permanently on the University of Bristol campus. May our ancestors continue to show us the way to walk.

As a child growing up in Bristol there were no statues of black women that I could identify with.So,knowing that my children and their grandchildren and great grandchildren will be able to seeHenriettas statue, is just fantastic, especially at this time when Bristol is starting to address its past.

Family of black woman hailed as 'mother of modern medicine' to sue company for 'stealing her cells' - The Voice Online

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