September 23, 2021

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Henrietta Lox’s family, with unusual cells, demands justice

Posted on July 30, 2021 at 01:02

The family of Henrietta Lox, an African-American whose cells were taken without her knowledge has revolutionized modern medicine, announcing on Thursday their desire to file a complaint against the drug groups that used it.

“They have been using their cells for 70 years and the Lox family has received nothing in return for this theft,” his granddaughter Kimberly Locks told a news conference.

“They treated her like a laboratory rat, she’s not human, she has no family,” he continued, demanding “justice for this racist and unethical treatment.”

In 1951, Henrietta Lox, 31, died of cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. During attempts to treat her, cells from her tumor were unknowingly taken to a researcher.

He soon realized that his cells, renamed Hella cells, had extraordinary properties: they could grow outside the human body, in vitro, and multiply indefinitely.

Since then they have helped laboratories around the world develop vaccines – especially against polio – for cancer treatments and some cloning techniques, an industry worth billions of dollars.

The family of Henrietta Lox knew nothing until the 1970s, in which Bestseller only thanked Rebecca Schlutt, author of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lox”.

– “Reluctance” –

“The Lox family has been exploited for a long time and they say it’s over,” his grandson Alfred Carter said Thursday, announcing that he has chosen to represent the famous civil rights lawyer Ben Crumb in court.

Crump, who is known to protect relatives of police victims, including George Floyd, said he would file a complaint Oct. 4 to mark the 70th anniversary of the controversial model.

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“Black lives in America must be given due value,” he said, acknowledging the Black Lives Matter movement and its other struggles.

His colleague Christopher Seeker said the complaint was “of concern to all those who benefited from the use of Hella Cells and those who did not reach an agreement with the family to compensate them.”

In 2013, an agreement was reached between the descendants of Henrietta Locks and Johns Hopkins University to sit on the committee responsible for approving the future use of two family members of Hella cells. But there are no financial elements in the contract.

“Johns Hopkins has never sold or benefited from the invention or distribution of Hella Cells, and does not own the rights to these cells,” the company notes on its site.

Ellen Wright Clayton, a professor of biomedical ethics and community at Vanderbilt University, says it is difficult for the Lox family to get “restructured” in court.

He recalled in an interview with AFP that US courts have so far “been very reluctant to give humans some control over their models”.

But “it opens up an interesting debate,” he predicts: this regulation will focus on the “tension between the general desire to promote research and the right to control individuals’ personal data” in an increasingly limited society.