The family of the late great Henrietta Lacks is celebrating a milestone victory.

According to The Baltimore Banner, living relatives of Lacks officially reached a settlement in their case brought forth against a Massachusetts-based multibillion-dollar biotechnology company. The family received the news on the day that Lacks would have turned 103.

As previously reported by AfroTech, the lawsuit alleges that Thermo Fisher Scientific routinely used regenerative cells that were taken from Lacks without her consent decades ago.

The History Behind Henrietta Lacks' Cells

Roughly 70 years ago, Lacks went in to receive cervical cancer treatment in a then-segregated ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital located in Baltimore, MD. Just a few months after her diagnosis, Lacks passed away.

Around the same time of her death, researchers at Hopkins learned that the cells, which were secretly sampled from Lacks’ cervix, had the ability to regenerate outside of her body — the first time this had ever been observed. Previous cells from other patients had quickly died.

The researchers then shared those same findings and samples with other scientists all over the world, at no cost. Today, those regenerated cells have been used to create vaccines for both polio and COVID-19.

What’s more, Lacks’ cells were also used to develop the world’s most common fertility treatment.

Her descendants contend that because the cells still belong to Lacks (and she never consented to their use), when companies such as Thermo Fisher Scientific make the move to use them, they should pay for them.

The Settlement

The science company has argued that it isn’t the only company using the “HeLa cells” (the name given based on Lacks’ own name) without proper consent from the family. Thermo Fisher Scientific thus accused the family members of waiting too long to take legal action, noting that it should not be singled out when companies across the world have done the same.

While the dollar amount reached in the settlement remains confidential, the family did seek compensation for the use of their family member’s cells without the proper agreement.

Attorneys Ben Crump and Chris Seeger stated that they also plan to file further complaints in regard to compensation and control of Lacks’ cells in the future.

“The parties are pleased that they were able to find a way to resolve this matter outside of court and will have no further comment about the settlement,” the company stated. 

Well-Deserved Recognition

Despite the fact that Lacks’ HeLa cells have been used for countless research and medical advancements, her contributions to science have gone unnoticed. 

Today, Baltimore Rep. Kweisi Mfume and U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin have introduced legislation to posthumously award Lacks with a Congressional Gold Medal.