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After almost a decade of reflection, University of Pennsylvania researcher James M. Wilson says problems with the gene-therapy experiment that killed an Arizona teenager were "absolutely unacceptable" and ultimately "my responsibility."

"I have tried to admit where I did wrong, where I fell short," Wilson, 53, said this week in his first media interview about Jesse Gelsinger's death in September 1999. "I have tremendous regrets about what happened. I feel absolutely awful about what it has done to the family, to this university, to the field."

Gelsinger's death set off years of government investigations, congressional hearings, and efforts to improve human-subject protections, while the much-hyped but unproven field of gene therapy shriveled and retrenched. In recent years, it has just begun to report some success.

Wilson is still a gene-therapy researcher at Penn, but his well-funded laboratory is focused on the basic test-tube and animal studies that he now says should have been done a decade ago. Recently, he has been giving cautionary lectures to colleagues at Penn and elsewhere on the "lessons" he learned from the tragedy that reshaped...