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Ecuador accuses US scientists of blood sample theft

ECUADOR charged on Monday that US scientists had taken thousands of unauthorised blood samples from indigenous Huaorani Indians — and sold them.

The Huaorani are known for a unique genetic profile and disease immunity and the samples are believed to have been sold by the Coriell Institute for Medical Research to Harvard University Medical School.

Ecuador’s constitution bans the use of genetic material and scientific research in violation of human rights.

There were some “3,500 procedures” in which blood was drawn without authorisation from 600 Huaorani, who live in Ecuador’s Amazon basin region, said Higher Education and Science Ministry chief Rene Ramirez.

Samples “were taken on more than one occasion,” he said while revealing details of a new government investigation.

In an initial investigation two years ago, the Huaorani said US scientists duped them between 1990 and 1991.

They were told the blood samples were for medical tests, but the results never materialised.

“It was demonstrated that the Coriell Institute has in its stores samples (from the Huaorani) and that it sells genetic material from the Huaorani people,” Monday’s report said.

President Rafael Correa said there was information indicating that samples had been taken as far back as the 1970s “in complicity with the oil company operating in the area.”

Mr Correa said the blood was being used in research because the indigenous group targeted is isolated and “immune to some illnesses.”

He said there was “no US federal legal grounds to sue” but he would look for other litigation options.

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