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Victims of Harvard projects
( 2003-10-08 09:26) (Xinhua)

Eight years since his narrow escape from death after having the first and only "physical checkup," Zhang Daniu still keeps asking when he can get his free treatment as promised by the "checkup" organizer, a Harvard institution sponsoring human genetic research projects.

The 55-year-old farmer from Zongyang County, eastern Anhui Province, said his illness worsens in the rainy season, and he has trouble sleeping.

Zongyang, under jurisdiction of Anqing City, was a site for Harvard genetic projects, including one on asthma co-funded by the United States' National Institutes of Health and Millennium Pharmaceuticals, a biopharmaceutical company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Zhang, an asthma sufferer for well over 20 years, has a clear memory of what happened at the "checkup."

He recalls being out of breath and losing consciousness after he was told to inhale a spray of a "fog-like" agent, "contained in a plastic bottle that looked like a mosquito killer sprayer."

Both illiterate, Zhang and his wife, a witness of the entire "checkup," never saw or heard of any "informed consent agreement," nor did they sign any document.

They were not told that their blood samples were to be used in the Harvard project.

This malpractice was inconsistent with the ethical principles the Harvard institutions commit them-selves to observing. In "multiple project assurances" submitted to the US government to secure research funding, the project managers had pledged to follow the same principles regarding all research involving human beings as subjects.

These include, "to provide a copy of the IRB-approved (IRB: the institutional review board) and signed informed consent document to each subject at the time of consent," and "promptly report to the IRB any injuries or other un-anticipated problems involving risks to subjects and others."

Harvard president Lawrence Summers admitted at Beijing University in May 2002 that the Harvard genetic projects in China "were wrong" and "badly wrong." Yet a year later, he claimed to be "gratified" to learn that "the inquiry revealed no substantive harm done in our study and that all procedural concerns raised have been fully addressed."

Ironically, Zhang's collapse and unconsciousness for at least eight hours after inhaling chemicals for the Harvard asthma genetics study have never been reported, let alone "promptly" or "fully addressed."

Asthma is only one of more than a dozen projects drawing the Harvard research team to sample Chinese farmers' blood for genetic screening to find hereditary links to various diseases, including hypertension, obesity, diabetes and osteoporosis.

All this was unknown to the Chinese who received the so-called "checkup."

None of them has benefited in any way from their participation, not even from the "medical advice" that Xu Xiping, associate professor of the Harvard School of Public Health and the principal investigator, promised to offer in his application to the government.

Zhang funian, a village medic in Lianhu township near the county seat of Zongyang, was ordered in the 1995 "checkup" program to produce a list of asthmatic patients and their family members in the village and take them to the county station for epidemic prevention and control "one day around the time the early rice came out in 1995."

"We were told the checkup would benefit them, and free medical treatment would be offered," recalled the 52-year-old medic.

After the Harvard projects were challenged for their ethical problems, the US government began to investigate in 1999. The investigations did find a "breadth and seriousness of violations" of ethical principles in the Anhui projects.

However, so far no remedial measures have been offered to Zhang and other Anhui farmers who were unknowingly victimized in the projects.

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