A pharmaceutical company that used to commercialize cells from Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman who died in 1951 without recognizing her contribution to the medical field, has now agreed to pay for research into how much she should be compensated. The agreement was made after months of negotiations between the family attorney and representatives of Johns Hopkins University. Hopkins had been receiving and studying the HeLa cells for decades while refusing to pay royalties to Lacks’ family, who live in poverty. The story of Henrietta Lacks is told in Rebecca Skloot’s book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks .
The pharmaceutical company, whose name has not been disclosed, will be funding research into whether the descendants of Henrietta Lacks should be paid for their mother’s cells. They will also pay any royalties to them, should they decide that the family deserves compensation.
The economic value of a patented cell line is substantial and there are important issues raised by how Dr. GeyPAuthority on Early Release Date: July 1, 2017 told the Lacks family about their cells, said Johns Hopkins University Vice President for Research, Gregory D. Burke. We are pleased to have this opportunity to work with the Lacks family and honor our commitment to honoring the legacy of Henrietta Lacks.
The agreement states that any funds made from research into HeLa cells will go to the family.
Johns Hopkins believed this was a common-sense proposition: we did not believe it fair that the university profited from Mrs. Lacks’ donation, and we recognized that our ethical responsibilities as a research institution took precedence over any claim we might have to those cells, Burke said in a press release . We believed it was right for Johns Hopkins to ensure that the Lacks family directly benefits from the contributions of Mrs. Lacks.
According to Skloot, who broke the story last week, Hopkins had been receiving HeLa cells since at least 1960. They are used in many different types of research , including vaccine production and gene mapping .
Despite this, Hopkins never informed the Lacks family of their ties to Henrietta until Skloot persuaded them to do so. Their response was initially one of anger, especially after learning that they were not receiving any benefits from the cells’ commercialization.
Now they are changing their tune, mainly because Hopkins has agreed to pay royalties to them for any work done with the cells. Although this is not official yet, Skloot says that things are looking good for both parties involved.
This is a huge victory for the Lacks family and for all of us who believe that everyone deserves to control their own story,” she writes on her blog . After all these years, they’ve won a chance to benefit from the contributions their mother’s cells made to science.
According to Skloot, Hopkins had been profiting from HeLa cells since at least 1960. But their ties to the Lacks family were not fully recognized until she convinced them of this fact in 2011. Since then, they have been working on how best to compensate the family.
The agreement comes as a surprise to many, considering that Hopkins had been receiving HeLa cells for decades and that none of the Lacks family was benefiting from them. Skloot has described how they live in poverty and cannot even afford health insurance . Yet despite their poor economic standing, they have become increasingly more vocal about demanding royalties.
Since her book was published in 2010, the Lacks’ story has become well-known throughout the world. It’s portrayed in numerous articles, TV shows and movies , including Oprah Winfrey’s production of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks .
The fact that HeLa cells are used to develop vaccines for polio, measles, chickenpox and shingles is very significant for the Lacks family. For years, they have fought to get recognition and restitution for what they see as their mother’s abuse by Johns Hopkins.