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Microscope images of HeLa cells colored in green and blue

Family members of Henrietta Lacks filed a lawsuit Monday against the U.S. biotech giant Thermo Fisher Scientific accusing the company of “unjust enrichment” for making and selling products that relied on cells taken from her decades earlier without her consent.

The suit, filed at the U.S. District Courthouse in Baltimore, follows years of consideration by family members about how to remedy the treatment of Lacks and Black people generally in medicine and the related financial windfall for pharmaceutical companies.

The family said in July it had hired prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump to explore lawsuits against as many as 100 defendants, mostly pharmaceutical companies, and possibly Johns Hopkins Hospital, where the so-called HeLa cells were taken.

“It is outrageous that this company would think that they have intellectual rights to [Lacks’] cells. Why would they have intellectual rights to her cells and can [make] billions of dollars, when her family, her flesh and blood, her Black children, get nothing?” Crump said at a news conference with co-counsels Christopher Seeger and Kim Parker and Lacks’ relatives.

“Black people have the... see more