The family of Henrietta Lacks can pursue compensation from a pharmaceutical company over its use of her HeLa cells, which have been influential in modern medicine after being taken without her consent decades ago.

A federal judge rejected a pharmaceutical company’s attempt to have a lawsuit dismissed on Monday. The ruling came in a case against Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical, which is located in Novato, California.

Chris Ayers, one of the Lacks family’s attorneys, called the judge’s decision historic.

“To be able to represent the family and be able to move forward and in litigation against companies that continue to profit off of Henrietta Lacks is incredibly important, and a milestone,” Ayers said.

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Lacks’ family is on a quest to get compensation for Lacks’ immortal HeLa cells. They were taken without her permission while she was being treated for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins in 1951.

The cells are considered a cornerstone in modern medicine and have had an important role in countless medical innovations, like the polio and COVID-19 vaccines.

Ultragenyx is the second company the family has sued for profiting off the cells. Last year, they settled a suit brought against Thermo Fisher Scientific.

“This is really the first step of holding the scientific community accountable for its continued misuse of Mrs. Lacks’ cells and perpetuating business conduct that occurred over 70 years ago,” Ayers said.

The ruling allows the case to move into the discovery phase, where the two sides swap information and evidence.

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WJZ reached out to Ultragenyx, which declined to comment.

WJZ is a media partner of The Baltimore Banner.