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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 Who owns cells and DNA?  Property rights get messy in biology

Author: Sarah Kearns
Editors: Genesis Rodriguez, Zena Lapp, and Whit Froehlich

Scattered around your house or apartment, lightly coating the surface of your coffee table and lurking in the nooks and crannies of each room, discarded layers of yourself can be found in the form of skin and hair cells. Regardless of how much of clean-freak you are, it’s unlikely you miss the over one million cells you shed per day. One might go so far as to say that they aren’t even yours in the first place as you sweep them up during a spring cleaning before irreverently dumping them in the waste bin. But what if someone came into your house and took them? Continue reading ” Who owns cells and DNA?  Property rights get messy in biology”