Last month marked the tenth anniversary of Jesse Gelsinger's death. While perhaps not quite a household name, Gelsinger is vividly remembered among many medical researchers. His death during a gene therapy clinical trial in September 1999 rocked the field like nothing else since the Tuskegee experiments. But sadly, the questionable research practices that led to Gelsinger's death have only become more troublesome in the past decade. Indeed, protections for clinical trial participants seem to be waning at the very moment they are needed most.
Gelsinger suffered from orinthine trascarbamlase deficiency (OTCD), a rare metabolic disorder that prevents the body from breaking down ammonia. Many children with OTCD die at a young age, but Gelsinger had a mild version and led a fairly normal life through medicine and a special diet. Since a single-gene defect is responsible for OTCD, researchers considered it a prime candidate for gene therapy, a still-experimental treatment that attempts to replace defective genes with normal ones.
Gene therapy was the embryonic stem cell research of the 1990s; its ability to cure was thought to be boundless and...