December 20, 2000 Gene Vampires Strike in Rural China
Fifteen hundred people in rural China were tricked into giving
blood to genetic vampires on the premise they would receive free
Researchers at Harvard University and its corporate sponsor,
Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., said that
DNA from the isolated population in the mountainous Anhui province
“is more valuable than gold”.
Harvard has reaped millions of dollars in federal grants and
private investment due to its access to Anhui DNA. Millennium
was also able to raise tens of millions of dollars from corporate
Samples from Anhui have been analysed through a variety of projects
that include studies of asthma, diabetes, hypertension, human
reproduction, nicotine addiction, obesity, osteoporosis, schizophrenia
English teacher Chen Hong said local health officials told villagers
they were collecting health data “to study diseases related
to genetics” for an “American” research project.
Those who participated would receive a free exam, test results,
follow-up care and a “health card” for a subsidised
health care program.
Volunteers underwent a battery of tests and gave blood, but
results, follow-up care and health care program never materialised
and all the medical problems that were identified went untreated.
“Promises were made,” said one doctor. “Participants
were told they
would get free medical care and reduced-cost care, but the research
project never gave us the funds to do it.”
In November 2000, the US Embassy in Beijing issued a warning
to US medical researchers against working in rural areas of China
where “health care is poor and people are unable to protect
On the Chinese side, Yang Huanming, the director of sequencing
work for the Chinese Human Genome Project, offered scathing criticism.
“I hope that Harvard and the School of Public Health will
understand that the recruiting methods they use in China are unacceptable
to the Chinese”.
In China, critics attempted to stop or at least slow the expanding
genetic research empire, but with little success. “It is
bad research, pure and simple,” said Yang, of the Genome
Project. “They cheated the patients.”
Qiu Renzong, one of China's leading medical ethicists and a
senior government adviser, called for a joint US-Chinese review
of the Harvard experiments. At Millennium, chief business officer
Steven H. Holtzman, said he had no reason to believe that Harvard
broke any rules in carrying out research in China.
Harvard continues to research in Anhui. With grants from NIH,
they are launching a $3.5 million study of hypertension in 700
adults and teens and a $3.3 million nicotine study that will look
for clues to cigarette addiction in the blood of 3,400 people.
Sources: In rural China, a genetic mother lode, Washington Post,
by John Pomfret & Deborah Nelson December 20, 2000. AR