The Henrietta Lacks Estate vs Thermo Fisher: An update on the conversation surrounding the origin of HeLa cells

Written by: Christina Del Greco

Edited by: Ryan Schildcrout, Henry Ertl, and Madeline Barron 

Illustrated by: Katie Bonefas 

On October 4, 2021, Henrietta Lacks’ estate filed a lawsuit against Thermo Fisher Scientific, accusing them of selling products containing Henrietta Lacks’ cells (HeLa cells) for profit, despite the fact that the cells were taken without her consent. Nor, they say, has Thermo Fisher asked for the family’s consent even after the origin of HeLa cells became controversial. HeLa cells can sell for over $2000/mL, contributing significantly to Thermo Fisher’s annual revenue of over $35 billion per year. This lawsuit represents many of the ethical issues that have repeatedly arisen regarding the origin of HeLa cells. As such, to understand the lawsuit, we have to understand the history and significance of the cells themselves.

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