Family of black woman suing biotech firm for taking cancer cells without consent

World Saturday 16/October/2021 16:45 PM
Family of black woman suing biotech firm for taking cancer cells without consent

Washington: The family of an African-American woman, Henrietta Lacks whose cervical cancer cells were taken without consent for research in 1951 is suing a biotech firm for compensation.

Kasim Kabbara, writing in ABC News said that "HeLa" cells have led to several medical breakthroughs. HeLa cells have led to several medical breakthroughs including the polio vaccine, coronavirus vaccines, cancer treatments, AIDS treatments, zero gravity in space, and more. On October 4, the 70th anniversary of her death, Henrietta Lacks' family filed a federal lawsuit against Thermo Fisher Scientific claiming unjust enrichment and non-consensual use of her cells and tissue samples.

In 1951, at the age of 31, Henrietta was diagnosed with cervical cancer and began treatment at one of the only facilities willing to treat African Americans, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

During her treatment, a gynecologist performed a biopsy on her and sent her tissue to a lab for research, without her consent or that of her family's, reported ABC News.

In subsequent experiments with her tissue sample, scientists discovered that Henrietta's cells reproduced and thrived outside of her body -- a discovery that helped shape medical innovations.

What Henrietta Lacks experienced is now illegal and researchers are required to get consent before using a patient's tissue sample for research according to federal law, said Kabbara.

The family members say they have not received any profit from the research and use of Lacks' cells. They say they believe the time is now to be compensated and they are aware they will have to fight as many as 100 defendants, the first being Thermo Fisher.

Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., based in Massachusetts, sells HeLa cells on its website.

Lack's story emerged about a decade ago with the release of the book, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks."

Her story gained more national attention with the release of "The Life of Henrietta Lacks" movie.

Oprah Winfrey starred as Henrietta's daughter, Deborah Lacks, and Renee Elise Goldsberry portrayed Henrietta, reported ABC News.

Earlier on Thursday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has honoured Henrietta Lacks, recognising the world-changing legacy of a Black woman whose cancer cells have provided the basis for life-changing medical breakthroughs.