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About Those Chips

Researchers and others are concerned that a dispute over how the Wellcome Sanger Institute used DNA samples from African individuals could weaken the trust there was between researchers and African populations, as well as imperil research from which Africans might benefit, Science reports.

In April 2018, four researchers sent a complaint to the Wellcome Trust, which provides Sanger's funding, about the institute's $2.2 million deal with Thermo Fisher Scientific to develop microarray chips based on African genetic data it had collected through a number of collaborations, according to Science. It notes that they planned to use the chips to study the genetics of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure in 100,000 Africans.

But the researchers were worried Sanger didn't have the needed legal agreements to make the chips, as some of the agreements it signed with African universities did not allow for commercialization, it adds. Sanger, it adds, has denied these claims and says the arrays were not commercialized.

Still, this led, as the Times reported last month, to Stellenbosch University asking the Sanger to return DNA samples collected from an indigenous group. And Science says the planned study has been halted.

"The tragedy and the scandal is that the people who will pay the price are Africans," Jantina de Vries, a bioethicist at the University of Cape Town, tells Science.