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Family of Henrietta Lacks sues biotech company Ultragenyx​ over HeLa cells

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BALTIMORE -- Attorneys for the family of Henrietta Lacks have filed a lawsuit against a second large biopharmaceutical company.

This time, the family is asking billion-dollar biotech company Ultragenyx for compensation and for control over the valuable HeLa cells that were taken, without permission, from their ancestor. The family of Lacks wants to take back control of her legacy.

Historic Henrietta Lacks settlement paves the way for 'unjust enrichment' claims 02:35

Henrietta Lacks was in the racially segregated ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital being treated for cervical cancer. Without her knowledge or consent, and for no medical purpose, doctors surgically took tissue samples from her.

Those stolen cells were cultivated into the first immortal human cell line. They're known as HeLa cells, using the first two letters of her first and last names to disguise their origin.

So far, the Lacks family has not sued Johns Hopkins Hospital. As for Ultragenyx, that lawsuit was only filed yesterday. The next step will be for Ultragenyx to obtain counsel and then the legal process will begin.

Ultragenyx is a pharmaceutical company that continues to benefit from the deeply unethical and unlawful origin of the HeLa cells.

Earlier this month, the family settled with another pharmaceutical giant: Thermo Fisher Scientific.

HeLa cells have made enormous contributions to medicine, aiding in vaccines, gene mapping, and infertility research. They are used worldwide. Until recently, their origins were cloaked in secrecy.

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