Family Of Henrietta Lacks Seeks Compensation From Big Pharma
The family of Henrietta Lacks -- a Black woman whose cells, harvested without her knowledge, were used for several medical breakthroughs -- announced plans to sue the big pharmaceutical giants that profited from those discoveries, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
Photo Insert: Portrait of Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells, after having been biopsied, were the unplanned source of the HeLa line, which became the first immortalized cell line
In 1951, the 31-year-old Lacks, a mother of five, died of cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. During attempts to treat her, cells from her tumor had been taken and transmitted to a researcher without her knowledge -- and used for decades without her family's knowledge.
Curiously, the cancer cells of Lacks, now called HeLa cells, never stopped growing, allowing researchers to use them in developing vaccines and anti-cancer therapies.
"For far too long, the Lacks family has been exploited, the Lacks family has been taken advantage of. And we say no, no longer. No more," her grandson Alfred Carter said. "So pharmaceutical companies: you are on notice."
The Lacks family has retained prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who has represented the relatives of many African Americans killed in incidents with police, including the loved ones of George Floyd.
"Black life must be valued in America," Crump said, announcing he would file a complaint on October 4 to mark the 70th anniversary of the disputed samples. Lacks' cells, dubbed HeLa cells, have enabled laboratories around the world to develop vaccines -- especially against polio -- as well as cancer treatments and certain cloning techniques, an industry worth billions of dollars.
Her family first discovered how Lacks had helped medical science in the 1970s, and only understood her legacy thanks to Rebecca Skloot, who wrote the 2010 best-seller "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks."