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Ecuador to sue US lab for tribe's blood samples

01 september 2012, 13:18
0
Photo courtesy of tenerbuenasalud.com
Photo courtesy of tenerbuenasalud.com
Ecuador will sue a US lab for possessing and selling blood samples taken under false pretenses from members of a small Amazon tribe, AFP reports according to the President Rafael Correa.

Correa said the samples were taken from people of the Waorani community in the early 1990s by two Americans, one of them a doctor, acting on the premise that the 3,000-member group is particularly resistant to disease and this merited research.

The government is acting now, more than 20 years later, because it was only in July of this year that the Waorani filed a complaint with the government ombudsman's office. A new constitution passed in 2008 prohibits what is known here as biopiracy.

The indigenous complaint alleges the samples were taken on grounds the Americans wanted to do a routine medical checkup of the indigenous people, but that these persons never heard back again from the Americans.

The complaint says the blood eventually ended up at the Coriell Institute for Medical Research, based in Camden, New Jersey.

Since 1994, the institute has sold several Waorani cell cultures and blood samples to other researchers, the complaint alleges.

The institute issued a statement confirming it had one cell line from the Waorani, saying it was obtained from a Harvard Medical School researcher in 1991.

From 1994 to 2008, Coriell distributed seven cell cultures and 36 DNA samples from this line for scientific research in eight countries.

But Coriell said it "received no commercial benefit associated with the receipt, storage or distribution of these specimens" and, since 2010, the cell line is no longer part of the institute's genetic material repository.

The indigenous material was used almost exclusively to understand the range of variation in the human DNA sequence that occurs between populations, according to the institute.

The research helps scientists determine what variation is commonly found among populations, identify which variations are important in diseases and determine how all human populations are related.

Correa insisted the people from whom the blood was taken did not know why this was being done.

"Our ancestral peoples... are resistant to many diseases. They are the subject of scientific interest, But ethics and bio-ethics demand that any study must be done with the consent of informed individuals," the president said in a weekly televised address to the nation.

"In coordination with our Waorani brothers, we are studying the best avenues for taking this before international courts."

The minister of natural and cultural heritage, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, said the New Jersey medical center had violated the rights of the indigenous group and the government will not "let this go unpunished."

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