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Henrietta Lacks' family can proceed with lawsuit against Ultragenyx over "immortal" HeLa cells, judge rules

Henrietta Lacks' family allowed to proceed with lawsuit against Ultragenyx
Henrietta Lacks' family allowed to proceed with lawsuit against Ultragenyx 00:34

BALTIMORE -- A federal judge in Maryland rejected a pharmaceutical company's attempt to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of Henrietta Lacks over the use of cells taken from her body in the 1950s.

The decision means the estate of Lacks, the Baltimore County woman whose cells have played a foundational role in modern medicine, can proceed with its lawsuit against Ultragenyx.

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.  

Lacks was in the racially segregated ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s being treated for cervical cancer. Without her knowledge or consent, and for no medical purpose, doctors surgically took tissue samples from her.  

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

Tissue taken from Lacks' tumor before she died of cervical cancer in 1951 became the first human cells to be successfully cloned. The harvested cells are known as HeLa cells.

HeLa cells were discovered to have unique properties. While most cell samples died shortly after being removed from the body, her cells survived and thrived in laboratories. They became known as the first immortalized human cell line because scientists could cultivate her cells indefinitely.    

Over the span of several decades, HeLa cells have become a cornerstone of modern medicine, enabling countless scientific and medical innovations, including the development of the polio vaccine, genetic mapping and even COVID-19 vaccines. 

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