(HealthDay News) — The family of Henrietta Lacks has filed another in a series of planned lawsuits over the use of Lacks’ cells without her knowledge or consent. Known as the HeLa cell line, it has changed modern medicine because of the cells’ unusual ability to survive in laboratories, making it possible for researchers to reproduce studies using identical material.
This second lawsuit, filed Thursday in Baltimore, is against the California-based biopharmaceutical company Ultragenyx. The new lawsuit claims that Ultragenyx leadership did not seek the Lacks family’s permission to use the cells after learning of their origin, the Associated Press reported.
“Ultragenyx’s choice to continue utilizing HeLa cells despite the cell line’s origin and the concrete harm it inflicts on the Lacks family can only be understood as a choice to embrace a legacy of racial injustice embedded in the U.S. research and medical systems,” attorney Ben Crump said in a statement. “Like anyone else, Black people have the right to control their bodies.”
The suit was filed in the same location where a 2021 lawsuit was settled last week against biotech company Thermo Fisher Scientific. The family has said it plans to file more lawsuits. The lawsuits have accused the companies of profiting off the cells from Lacks, a Black woman. It was not illegal for doctors to harvest cells without a patient’s permission at the time this happened to Lacks in the early 1950s, but the family has said the companies continue to commercialize the cell line even though they know the origin.
Lacks died at age 31 after being diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951. A mother of five, she lived outside Baltimore. Doctors from Johns Hopkins Hospital collected and saved her cells, and hospital officials have said that Johns Hopkins never sold or profited from the cell line.
Among the medical innovations possible because of the HeLa cells are vaccines and genetic mapping. Ultragenyx has used the cells to develop gene therapy products. Other companies have patented other ways to use the cells, the AP reported.