Thermo Fisher reaches settlement with Henrietta Lacks’ family regarding cloned cell controversy

**Henrietta Lacks’ Descendants Reach Settlement with Thermo Fisher Scientific**
More than 70 years after doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital took Henrietta Lacks’ cervical cells without her knowledge, a lawyer for her descendants announced that they have reached a settlement with a biotechnology company they sued in 2021. The lawsuit accused Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., of reaping billions of dollars from a racist medical system.  The settlement agreement was reached after closed-door negotiations that lasted all day Monday inside the federal courthouse in Baltimore. The terms of the agreement remain confidential.

**The Impact of Henrietta Lacks’ Cells on Medical Research**
Henrietta Lacks’ cells, known as HeLa cells, have had a profound impact on medical research and innovations. Tissue taken from Lacks’ tumor before she died of cervical cancer became the first human cells to be successfully cloned. These cells have been reproduced infinitely ever since, and have played a vital role in scientific and medical breakthroughs, including the development of the polio vaccine, genetic mapping, and even COVID-19 vaccines. Despite the immeasurable impact of these cells, the Lacks family had never been compensated.

**Controversy Surrounding the Commercialization of HeLa Cells**
Doctors harvested Henrietta Lacks’ cells in 1951, long before the existence of consent procedures used in modern medicine and scientific research. However, lawyers for the Lacks family argued that Thermo Fisher Scientific has continued to commercialize the results of the HeLa cell line, even after the origins of the cell line became well known. The family claimed that the company’s leaders have profited from a racist medical system. Thermo Fisher representatives have not yet responded to requests for comment on the settlement.

**The Unique Properties of HeLa Cells**
HeLa cells have unique properties that differentiate them from other cell samples. While most cells die shortly after being removed from the body, Lacks’ cells survived and thrived in laboratories. This exceptional quality made it possible to cultivate her cells indefinitely, earning them the nickname “first immortalized human cell line.” This breakthrough allowed scientists worldwide to replicate studies using identical cells, leading to countless advancements in medical research.

**The Story of Henrietta Lacks and the Lacks Family**
The remarkable story of Henrietta Lacks and her impact on medical science was documented in the bestselling book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. The book shed light on the struggles faced by the Lacks family, including their lack of compensation and the chronic illnesses they suffered without adequate health insurance. The story gained further attention when Oprah Winfrey portrayed Henrietta Lacks’ daughter in an HBO movie adaptation.

Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year-old tobacco farmer from southern Virginia when she died from cervical cancer. Doctors discovered a tumor in her cervix and saved a sample of her cancer cells during a biopsy. Johns Hopkins, where the cells were taken, has stated that it never sold or profited from the cell lines, but several companies have patented ways to use them.

**Addressing Racism in the Medical System**
The lawsuit filed by Lacks’ grandchildren and other descendants highlights a larger issue of racism within the American medical system. They argue that the exploitation of Henrietta Lacks represents a common struggle experienced by Black people throughout history. The complaint states that the history of medical experimentation in the United States has often been marred by medical racism. The attorneys for the family argued that Thermo Fisher Scientific should not be protected by the statute of limitations because the company continues to benefit from the cells.

In response to the lawsuit, Johns Hopkins Medicine officials stated that they reviewed all interactions with Lacks and her family after the publication of Skloot’s book in 2010. They acknowledged their ethical responsibility but emphasized that they have never sold or profited from the discovery or distribution of HeLa cells and do not own the rights to the cell line.

Henrietta Lacks’ descendants have reached a settlement with Thermo Fisher Scientific, the company they sued for commercializing the HeLa cell line without compensation. The impact of Lacks’ cells on medical research and scientific advancements cannot be overstated. The settlement brings some justice to the family that has long been denied recognition and compensation for their ancestor’s contribution to modern medicine. This case also highlights the ongoing issue of racism in the medical system and the need for greater accountability and justice.

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