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Henrietta Lacks And Her Remarkable Cells Will Finally See Some Payback

Research labs and companies gained financially from the Black woman’s cancer cells. Decades later, two entities are donating money to her foundation. Henrietta Lacks And Her Remarkable Cells Will Finally See Some Payback

Henrietta Lacks And Her Remarkable Cells Will Finally See Some Payback

Henrietta Lacks, In An Undated Photo, Sought Treatment For What Turned Out To Be Aggressive Cervical Cancer From Johns Hopkins Hospital In 1951.

In 1951, scientists took a Black woman’s cancer cells without her consent. The cells of Henrietta Lacks proved invaluable for research, and labs and companies gained financially from using them for decades, with nothing for her or her family.


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Now, two entities that benefited say they are giving back.

Abcam ABC PLC, a 1,400-person life-sciences company with headquarters in the U.K., is making a gift to the Henrietta Lacks Foundation to support higher-education scholarships in science, technology, engineering and mathematics for descendants of Ms. Lacks. The foundation and company aren’t disclosing the amount of the gift.

The lab of Samara Reck-Peterson, an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and professor of cellular and molecular medicine and of biological sciences at the University of California San Diego, said it utilizes the cells, commonly known as HeLa cells after Ms. Lacks, to study and ask research questions.

The lab will donate $100 to the foundation for each of the four cell lines that lab members created in the past by making changes to the HeLa cells, and for any cell lines they make in the future.

“This is a small part, but we want to encourage other labs to do something similar,” Dr. Reck-Peterson said. If every lab that uses the cells donated money, she added, it could have a sizable impact.

“The symbolism of the donations is powerful,” said Blair Kelley, associate professor of history at North Carolina State University and a member of the board of the Henrietta Lacks Foundation.

“A company and a research institution, two of the most important spaces that have benefited from the HeLa lines, are acknowledging what happened and what should be made right.”

The story of Ms. Lacks, who would have turned 100 years old on Saturday, has become a powerful symbol of the need for transparency in science, and the legacy of mistrust of the scientific and medical establishment within minority communities whose bodies have historically been used without their consent.

The case was detailed in the 2010 bestselling book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot, who set up the Henrietta Lacks Foundation and has primarily funded it with proceeds from the book and an HBO adaptation that starred Oprah Winfrey.

Ms. Lacks sought treatment for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 1951. She died later that year. Cells taken from her tumor sample without her knowledge and consent were sent to the lab of a researcher. Growing human cells in a lab is often difficult.

Henrietta Lacks And Her Remarkable Cells Will Finally See Some Payback

A Picture Of Hela Cells, Which Have Contributed To Medical Breakthroughs Such As The Polio And HPV Vaccines.

The researcher was amazed that the cells remained alive and kept replicating. He shared them with scientists around the world. Scientists today buy HeLa cells and cells with modifications for anywhere from $400 to thousands of dollars per vial.

The cells contributed to medical breakthroughs such as the polio and HPV vaccines and in vitro fertilization, and to study and ask research questions about cancer and AIDS.

Ms. Lacks’s family didn’t learn about the cells until the 1970s, when scientists tracked down and took blood samples from her children for additional studies. The family didn’t understand they were part of research, Ms. Skloot said.

Over the past decade, Johns Hopkins has worked with several members of the Lacks family to “recognize and honor Henrietta Lacks,” a spokeswoman for the university said. There are now named scholarships, annual symposia, a historical exhibit on the medical campus and plans to name a building after Ms. Lacks, as well as continuing discussions about informed consent, medical privacy, and how to communicate with research participants.

“Johns Hopkins has never sold or profited from the discovery or distribution of the HeLa cells and does not own the rights to the HeLa cell line,” the spokeswoman said.

Scientists have improved ethical rules in the wake of public attention about the Lacks case. In 2013, the National Institutes of Health announced an agreement that requires scientists to seek permission to use the genetic code of the HeLa cells in NIH-funded research and to acknowledge gratitude for the family’s contributions. The committee includes members of the Lacks family.

Ruha Benjamin, an associate professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, said the discussion about compensation for the HeLa cells echoes issues raised by the current protests about racial and social justice. Prof. Benjamin said that Henrietta Lacks’s story is now known, but that health inequities remain and need to be addressed.

“With racism, we are taught to look at who it harms, but we often fail to understand that people benefit materially from the ongoing perpetuation of racism,” she said.

The Lacks case also raises broad questions about research subjects that still remain unaddressed, says Clyde W. Yancy, professor and chief of cardiology at Northwestern University, a member of the foundation’s board and former chairman of the NIH HeLa committee.

“Are they or anyone else owed anything when a discovery is made from their biological material?” Dr. Yancy said. The question is especially sharp when it involves minority communities, who have historically been used in scientific experiments without their consent or knowledge.

The field of gynecology was developed in part on experiments performed on enslaved women, according to historians of science. Black men with syphilis had treatment withheld from them during a 40-year U.S.-run syphilis study in Tuskegee, Ala. President Bill Clinton issued a formal apology in 1997.

Dr. Yancy said that scientists have a duty to ensure that biological materials such as cells aren’t taken or used without people’s understanding and consent as well as an obligation to maintain patient anonymity to the extent possible.

But what, if any, financial compensation should be given to people when scientific creativity is involved in taking cells and turning them into important discoveries “remains an unresolved question. There is a lot of gray area around what happens there,” he said.

Yolonda Wilson, a professor of philosophy and bioethicist at Howard University, said the answer is clear in the case of Henrietta Lacks. “You still have to pay for it. If a baker steals apples off the tree and says, ‘I made the pie,’ you still have to pay for the apples you took,” Dr. Wilson said.

Alan Hirzel, CEO of Abcam, said that when he read about Henrietta Lacks, he was moved by “the story and the injustice of how her life played out.” In 2018, the company started making more of its own cell lines and acquiring edited cell lines from other companies, many of which use HeLa cells.

The company said that 60%-65% of the company’s edited cell-line products are based on the HeLa cell line.

In recognition of the history of the cells, the company decided to set up a scholarship to help give family members access to STEM education.

“I don’t think we have an obligation,” Mr. Hirzel said. “It was a choice. I thought having our product lines gave us greater cause and reason for doing something.” He said he hopes other companies will also consider the idea of a donation. “I think they have to want to do it. It has to come from a visceral desire to contribute and make an impact.”

At the Reck-Peterson lab, the scientists saw a direct connection between what happened to Henrietta Lacks and to current demonstrations and struggles for racial and social justice.

Donté Alexander Stevens, a graduate student in the lab, said the idea that the lab should do something was born out of conversations after the civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd in May. “Racism is everywhere,” Mr. Stevens said. “It got us thinking about how racism affects science.”

Mr. Stevens, who is Black, said he didn’t learn about the history of the Lacks cells until a professor in a biology class in college urged him to dig into the literature. “I remember having a sense of shock that the field I was trying to get into had a long history of exploitation of minorities.”

Dr. Reck-Peterson and her team considered several options, including using other cell lines or making monetary donations. They ended up speaking with members of the Lacks family, who told them the family wanted scientists to continue to use the cells to benefit science.

Ms. Skloot, the author, said that when she initially set up the foundation, she hoped businesses and research institutions that rely so heavily on HeLa cells would donate to help the family. But donations have mainly come from individuals rather than corporations or institutions.

“It is impossible to calculate how much money has been made in the world of science from the use of HeLa cells, whether it is selling HeLa cells or making a product using HeLa cells,” Ms. Skloot said. “People get tied up in knots trying to come up with a figure, what amount is owed to the family, and who owes the money.”

Jeri Lacks, granddaughter of Henrietta Lacks, said the donations recognizing that something is owed by those who use the cells “are a step in the right direction to recognize the sizable contribution Henrietta Lacks and HeLa cells have made.”

She said that the Lacks family is large and that different members hold various viewpoints on what should be done to rectify past injustices and how to move forward in a way that also ensures that future patients are protected. “More can be done,” she said, “and more will be done.”


Updated: 7-28-2023

Henrietta Lacks Family Lawsuit Against Biotech Company Ordered To Go To Settlement Conference Next Week

Henrietta Lacks And Her Remarkable Cells Will Finally See Some Payback

The lawsuit over a biotechnology company’s profiting off Henrietta Lacks’ cell line will head to settlement talks in U.S. District Court in Baltimore next week, leaving room to wind down the legal showdown between Thermo Fisher Scientific and the surviving family of the resident of Baltimore County’s Turner Station.

The case was referred last week to Magistrate Judge J. Mark Coulson, and was scheduled Thursday for a settlement conference Monday, according to court records.

A settlement could put an end to the suit in which Lacks’ family members allege the Massachusetts-based company has unjustly enriched itself off cells taken from Lacks in 1951 when she was being treated for cervical cancer.

Physicians at Johns Hopkins Hospital took the sample without Lacks’ consent or knowledge. The cells kept replicating, creating the HeLa immortal cell line, which is commonly used in biomedical research. HeLa cells have been used in several breakthroughs in medicine, such as the development of the polio vaccine, treatments for cancer and HIV/AIDS, and to study COVID-19.

The breakthroughs brought by Lacks’ cells went decades without much public recognition until Rebecca Skloot wrote the book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” which Oprah made into a 2017 film.

Her legacy prompted Baltimore Rep. Kweisi Mfume to file legislation seeking to posthumously grant her a Congressional Gold Medal. On Tuesday, U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin filed companion legislation in the Senate.

“While these cells continue to benefit millions across the world, they were taken without the consent or knowledge of Ms. Lacks and her family,” Cardin said in a statement, noting the high honor would “ensure that her contributions are recognized and honored for generations to come.”

In the lawsuit, filed in October 2021, Lacks’ family is asking U.S. District Judge Deborah L. Boardman to order the company to pay Henrietta Lacks’ living descendants for products derived from the cells. The family retained prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump to litigate the matter.

Boardman has not yet ruled on Thermo Fisher’s motion to dismiss the case, which has been pending for months. The biotech company said in the filing that the Lacks family did not meet the statute of limitations for a lawsuit as they made public statements about potential litigation in the years after Skloot published her bestselling book in 2010.

Representatives for Crump could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon and Thermo Fisher did not respond to a request for comment.

Any settlement could have broad implications for others in the biotech industry, as attorneys representing the Lacks family have suggested further litigation against companies that profit from HeLa cells.


Updated: 8-1-2023

Family of Henrietta Lacks, Whose Unique Cells Changed Science, Settles With Thermo Fisher

Her cancer cells played a critical role in medical breakthroughs, but her estate was never compensated.

The family of Henrietta Lacks and Thermo Fisher Scientific reached a settlement related to the unauthorized use of her cancer cells, which benefited labs and companies and proved invaluable for research for decades.

The two parties said they reached a confidential settlement in the case, originally filed by lawyers representing Lacks’s family in 2021 in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore. A news briefing Tuesday announcing the agreement landed on Lacks’s birthday.

“I can think of no better present on what would’ve been Henrietta Lacks’s 103rd birthday than to give her family some measure of respect for Henrietta Lacks, some measure of dignity for Henrietta Lacks and, most of all, some measure of justice for Henrietta Lacks 70 years later,” attorney Ben Crump said at the briefing.

The settlement is the latest development in a story that has come to represent the legacy of mistrust of the scientific and medical establishment within minority communities whose bodies have historically been used without their consent, and the need for transparency in science.

Lacks, a Black mother, sought treatment for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 1951. She died from the disease that October at the age of 31. During her treatment, researchers took cells from her tumor sample without her knowledge or consent.

Federal regulations requiring patient consent weren’t yet in place. Sent to a lab, her cells proved unique and invaluable for scientific research. While growing human cells in a lab is often difficult, Lacks’s cells remained alive and kept replicating.

The cells, which became known as HeLa cells, played a critical role in medical breakthroughs like the polio, HPV and Covid-19 vaccines and in vitro fertilization. They have been used in tens of thousands of studies and in research about cancer and AIDS.

Lacks’s family was unaware about the use of her cells until the 1970s. They never received compensation stemming from the money earned by companies using the cells, lawyers representing Lacks’s family said in their complaint against Thermo Fisher.

Lacks’s story has since become widely known. The 2010 bestselling book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot detailed the case. A film adaptation of the book, starring Oprah Winfrey, aired on HBO in 2017.

Lawyers representing Lacks’s family argued in an amended complaint, filed in 2022, that Thermo Fisher profits from the HeLa cell line without compensating her estate. They brought the lawsuit under a claim of unjust enrichment, saying the company continues to benefit from the cells.

“Black people have the right to control their bodies,” the lawyers wrote. “And yet Thermo Fisher Scientific treats Henrietta Lacks’ cells as chattel to be bought and sold.”

Lawyers for Thermo Fisher had sought to dismiss the case, saying the statute of limitations had passed. They also said the commercial use of HeLa cells is legal.

Lawyers for both parties said Tuesday they were pleased to have resolved the case and had no further comment.

In 2020, two entities that benefited from Lacks’s cells announced donations to the Henrietta Lacks Foundation.

Johns Hopkins, meanwhile, has said it has worked with members of Lacks’s families over the past decade to honor her legacy. That work includes scholarships and annual symposia, as well as plans for a building named in her honor.

The institution said it “has never sold or profited from the discovery or distribution of HeLa cells and does not own the rights to the HeLa cell line.”



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What Are The Biggest Alleged Crypto Heists And How Much Was Stolen? (#GotBitcoin?)

IRS To Cryptocurrency Owners: Come Clean, Or Else!

Coinbase Accidentally Saves Unencrypted Passwords Of 3,420 Customers (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Is A ‘Chaos Hedge, Or Schmuck Insurance‘ (#GotBitcoin?)

Bakkt Announces September 23 Launch Of Futures And Custody

Coinbase CEO: Institutions Depositing $200-400M Into Crypto Per Week (#GotBitcoin?)

Researchers Find Monero Mining Malware That Hides From Task Manager (#GotBitcoin?)

Crypto Dusting Attack Affects Nearly 300,000 Addresses (#GotBitcoin?)

A Case For Bitcoin As Recession Hedge In A Diversified Investment Portfolio (#GotBitcoin?)

SEC Guidance Gives Ammo To Lawsuit Claiming XRP Is Unregistered Security (#GotBitcoin?)

15 Countries To Develop Crypto Transaction Tracking System: Report (#GotBitcoin?)

US Department Of Commerce Offering 6-Figure Salary To Crypto Expert (#GotBitcoin?)

Mastercard Is Building A Team To Develop Crypto, Wallet Projects (#GotBitcoin?)

Canadian Bitcoin Educator Scams The Scammer And Donates Proceeds (#GotBitcoin?)

Amazon Wants To Build A Blockchain For Ads, New Job Listing Shows (#GotBitcoin?)

Shield Bitcoin Wallets From Theft Via Time Delay (#GotBitcoin?)

Blockstream Launches Bitcoin Mining Farm With Fidelity As Early Customer (#GotBitcoin?)

Commerzbank Tests Blockchain Machine To Machine Payments With Daimler (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin’s Historical Returns Look Very Attractive As Online Banks Lower Payouts On Savings Accounts (#GotBitcoin?)

Man Takes Bitcoin Miner Seller To Tribunal Over Electricity Bill And Wins (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin’s Computing Power Sets Record As Over 100K New Miners Go Online (#GotBitcoin?)

Walmart Coin And Libra Perform Major Public Relations For Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Judge Says Buying Bitcoin Via Credit Card Not Necessarily A Cash Advance (#GotBitcoin?)

Poll: If You’re A Stockowner Or Crypto-Currency Holder. What Will You Do When The Recession Comes?

1 In 5 Crypto Holders Are Women, New Report Reveals (#GotBitcoin?)

Beating Bakkt, Ledgerx Is First To Launch ‘Physical’ Bitcoin Futures In Us (#GotBitcoin?)

Facebook Warns Investors That Libra Stablecoin May Never Launch (#GotBitcoin?)

Government Money Printing Is ‘Rocket Fuel’ For Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin-Friendly Square Cash App Stock Price Up 56% In 2019 (#GotBitcoin?)

Safeway Shoppers Can Now Get Bitcoin Back As Change At 894 US Stores (#GotBitcoin?)

TD Ameritrade CEO: There’s ‘Heightened Interest Again’ With Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Venezuela Sets New Bitcoin Volume Record Thanks To 10,000,000% Inflation (#GotBitcoin?)

Newegg Adds Bitcoin Payment Option To 73 More Countries (#GotBitcoin?)

China’s Schizophrenic Relationship With Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

More Companies Build Products Around Crypto Hardware Wallets (#GotBitcoin?)

Bakkt Is Scheduled To Start Testing Its Bitcoin Futures Contracts Today (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Network Now 8 Times More Powerful Than It Was At $20K Price (#GotBitcoin?)

Crypto Exchange BitMEX Under Investigation By CFTC: Bloomberg (#GotBitcoin?)

“Bitcoin An ‘Unstoppable Force,” Says US Congressman At Crypto Hearing (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Network Is Moving $3 Billion Daily, Up 210% Since April (#GotBitcoin?)

Cryptocurrency Startups Get Partial Green Light From Washington

Fundstrat’s Tom Lee: Bitcoin Pullback Is Healthy, Fewer Searches Аre Good (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Lightning Nodes Are Snatching Funds From Bad Actors (#GotBitcoin?)

The Provident Bank Now Offers Deposit Services For Crypto-Related Entities (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Could Help Stop News Censorship From Space (#GotBitcoin?)

US Sanctions On Iran Crypto Mining — Inevitable Or Impossible? (#GotBitcoin?)

US Lawmaker Reintroduces ‘Safe Harbor’ Crypto Tax Bill In Congress (#GotBitcoin?)

EU Central Bank Won’t Add Bitcoin To Reserves — Says It’s Not A Currency (#GotBitcoin?)

The Miami Dolphins Now Accept Bitcoin And Litecoin Crypt-Currency Payments (#GotBitcoin?)

Trump Bashes Bitcoin And Alt-Right Is Mad As Hell (#GotBitcoin?)

Goldman Sachs Ramps Up Development Of New Secret Crypto Project (#GotBitcoin?)

Blockchain And AI Bond, Explained (#GotBitcoin?)

Grayscale Bitcoin Trust Outperformed Indexes In First Half Of 2019 (#GotBitcoin?)

XRP Is The Worst Performing Major Crypto Of 2019 (GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Back Near $12K As BTC Shorters Lose $44 Million In One Morning (#GotBitcoin?)

As Deutsche Bank Axes 18K Jobs, Bitcoin Offers A ‘Plan ฿”: VanEck Exec (#GotBitcoin?)

Argentina Drives Global LocalBitcoins Volume To Highest Since November (#GotBitcoin?)

‘I Would Buy’ Bitcoin If Growth Continues — Investment Legend Mobius (#GotBitcoin?)

Lawmakers Push For New Bitcoin Rules (#GotBitcoin?)

Facebook’s Libra Is Bad For African Americans (#GotBitcoin?)

Crypto Firm Charity Announces Alliance To Support Feminine Health (#GotBitcoin?)

Canadian Startup Wants To Upgrade Millions Of ATMs To Sell Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Trump Says US ‘Should Match’ China’s Money Printing Game (#GotBitcoin?)

Casa Launches Lightning Node Mobile App For Bitcoin Newbies (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Rally Fuels Market In Crypto Derivatives (#GotBitcoin?)

World’s First Zero-Fiat ‘Bitcoin Bond’ Now Available On Bloomberg Terminal (#GotBitcoin?)

Buying Bitcoin Has Been Profitable 98.2% Of The Days Since Creation (#GotBitcoin?)

Another Crypto Exchange Receives License For Crypto Futures

From ‘Ponzi’ To ‘We’re Working On It’ — BIS Chief Reverses Stance On Crypto (#GotBitcoin?)

These Are The Cities Googling ‘Bitcoin’ As Interest Hits 17-Month High (#GotBitcoin?)

Venezuelan Explains How Bitcoin Saves His Family (#GotBitcoin?)

Quantum Computing Vs. Blockchain: Impact On Cryptography

This Fund Is Riding Bitcoin To Top (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin’s Surge Leaves Smaller Digital Currencies In The Dust (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Exchange Hits $1 Trillion In Trading Volume (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Breaks $200 Billion Market Cap For The First Time In 17 Months (#GotBitcoin?)

You Can Now Make State Tax Payments In Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Religious Organizations Make Ideal Places To Mine Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Goldman Sacs And JP Morgan Chase Finally Concede To Crypto-Currencies (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Heading For Fifth Month Of Gains Despite Price Correction (#GotBitcoin?)

Breez Reveals Lightning-Powered Bitcoin Payments App For IPhone (#GotBitcoin?)

Big Four Auditing Firm PwC Releases Cryptocurrency Auditing Software (#GotBitcoin?)

Amazon-Owned Twitch Quietly Brings Back Bitcoin Payments (#GotBitcoin?)

JPMorgan Will Pilot ‘JPM Coin’ Stablecoin By End Of 2019: Report (#GotBitcoin?)

Is There A Big Short In Bitcoin? (#GotBitcoin?)

Coinbase Hit With Outage As Bitcoin Price Drops $1.8K In 15 Minutes

Samourai Wallet Releases Privacy-Enhancing CoinJoin Feature (#GotBitcoin?)

There Are Now More Than 5,000 Bitcoin ATMs Around The World (#GotBitcoin?)

You Can Now Get Bitcoin Rewards When Booking At Hotels.Com (#GotBitcoin?)

North America’s Largest Solar Bitcoin Mining Farm Coming To California (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin On Track For Best Second Quarter Price Gain On Record (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Hash Rate Climbs To New Record High Boosting Network Security (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Exceeds 1Million Active Addresses While Coinbase Custodies $1.3B In Assets

Why Bitcoin’s Price Suddenly Surged Back $5K (#GotBitcoin?)

Zebpay Becomes First Exchange To Add Lightning Payments For All Users (#GotBitcoin?)

Coinbase’s New Customer Incentive: Interest Payments, With A Crypto Twist (#GotBitcoin?)

The Best Bitcoin Debit (Cashback) Cards Of 2019 (#GotBitcoin?)

Real Estate Brokerages Now Accepting Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Ernst & Young Introduces Tax Tool For Reporting Cryptocurrencies (#GotBitcoin?)

Recession Is Looming, or Not. Here’s How To Know (#GotBitcoin?)

How Will Bitcoin Behave During A Recession? (#GotBitcoin?)

Many U.S. Financial Officers Think a Recession Will Hit Next Year (#GotBitcoin?)

Definite Signs of An Imminent Recession (#GotBitcoin?)

What A Recession Could Mean for Women’s Unemployment (#GotBitcoin?)

Investors Run Out of Options As Bitcoin, Stocks, Bonds, Oil Cave To Recession Fears (#GotBitcoin?)

Goldman Is Looking To Reduce “Marcus” Lending Goal On Credit (Recession) Caution (#GotBitcoin?)

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