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Henrietta Lacks family can proceed with lawsuit over use of HeLa cells after "milestone" federal court ruling

Henrietta Lacks' family can proceed with lawsuit against Ultragenyx over HeLa cells
Henrietta Lacks' family can proceed with lawsuit against Ultragenyx over HeLa cells 01:57

BALTIMORE -- The family of Henrietta Lacks has scored a major win in their fight to be compensated for her revolutionary HeLa cells. The immortal cells have been tremendously influential in modern medicine and were taken without her consent decades ago.

A federal judge rejected a pharmaceutical company's attempt to have a lawsuit demanding compensation dismissed on Monday.  

Now, the family of Henrietta Lacks can move forward with a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company Ultragenyx.

Chris Ayers, one of the Lacks family's attorneys, told WJZ the judge's decision is historic.

"To be able to represent the family and be able to move forward and in litigation against companies that continue to profit off of Henrietta Lacks is incredibly important, and a milestone," Ayers said.

Henrietta Lacks' family is on a quest to get compensation for Lacks' immortal HeLa cells. They were taken without her permission while she was being treated for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins in 1951.

The cells are considered a cornerstone in modern medicine and are responsible for countless medical innovations, like the polio and COVID-19 vaccines.

Ultragenyx is the second company the family has sued for profiting off the cells. Last year, they settled a suit brought against Thermo Fisher Scientific.

"This is really the first step of holding the scientific community accountable for its continued misuse of Mrs. Lacks' cells and perpetuating business conduct that occurred over 70 years ago," Ayers said.

Now that the judge has made this ruling, the case will move forward with discovery.

WJZ reached out to Ultragenyx, and we were told the company does not have a comment at this time.

Nationally-renowned civil rights attorney Ben Crump and attorney Christopher Seeger released this statement: "The family of Henrietta Lacks is grateful for the judge's important decision to deny Ultragenyx's baseless motion to dismiss the case and allow the lawsuit to move forward. This historic ruling is not only a victory for Henrietta Lacks' family; it presents an opportunity to correct a monumental wrong. We invite Big Pharma to the table to resolve this on behalf of Henrietta Lacks' family." 

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