This is the end of more than half a century of history. Henrietta Lacks’ family signed an agreement with Thermo Fisher, which, after the death of this African-American woman diagnosed with very aggressive cervical cancer, reproduced her cancer cells until they became immortal. The goal was to learn and explore; and its use laid the foundations for an entire medical revolution. However, many, including her relatives, doubted the means of achieving it: perpetuating the strange tumor of an illiterate woman, a tobacco factory worker and a low-income woman who never once agreed to repeat her evil again and again. ., making it the kind of standard measure that is still in use today.
Finally, after a bitter debate and years of litigation, “the parties are pleased to have found a way to resolve this issue out of court,” lawyers for the Lax family, Ben Crump and Chris Seeger, said in a statement. The terms of the agreement, which was reached almost two years after the complaint was filed in the US state of Maryland, were not disclosed.
The end of varnishes, the beginning of a new era
It all started when, in 1951, 31-year-old Henrietta Lacks arrived at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where she was diagnosed with very aggressive cervical cancer, which, according to her doctor, “never saw anything like it.” During trials and attempts to cure her, cells were removed from her tumor and sent for study by another research group. She never found out about all this, since she died soon after. He left eight orphans.
Although these malignant cells caused Lax’s death, they opened up a world of possibilities for medicine: scientists realized that his cancer cells could be grown in vitro, outside the human body, and multiply indefinitely. Thanks to them, renamed the HeLa cell line, it became possible to conduct all kinds of research and develop vaccines (a special mention of polio, which saved millions of lives), cancer treatments and some cloning methods. They even went into space as part of the first space missions so scientists could anticipate what would happen to human flesh in zero gravity.
While this whole revolution was going on, the Lacks family did not know anything. They learned in the 1970s that they still existed, but they didn’t know that Henrietta’s cells were bought, sold, packaged and shipped to millions of labs around the world, some of which experimented with cosmetics to make sure their products didn’t cause unwanted side effects. That all changed with the publication in 2010 of Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a bestseller that reopened the debate about whether the ends justify the means. On top of all the profits the pharmaceutical companies made on their own.
“They have been using their cameras for 70 years and the Lacks family has received nothing in return for this theft,” his granddaughter Kimberly Lacks said emphatically in 2021, when the family said they intended to file a complaint and accused Thermo Fisher Scientific of committing a crime. . billions from cell commercialization. This Tuesday, after decades in which the cells that killed her outlived Henrietta Lacks herself, she is compensated. This is August 1, when he would have exactly turned 103 years old.