Blood samples from Danish women participating in a public research project ended up in the hands of an organization founded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, raising numerous red flags, local media reports.
When 263 mothers-to-be provided weekly blood samples to Denmark’s State Serum Institute (SSI) to help researchers learn more about the body during pregnancy, they weren’t told that their blood was also being used for a private business venture connected to Zuckerberg, according to Danish Radio.
Blood samples from the research project, which began in 2014, were sent to Stanford University, a private research institution in California, where they were used to develop a blood test to detect premature birth. The then-director of SSI, Mads Melbye, together with his American research colleagues, started a private company and in 2018 entered into a business agreement with the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, founded and named after Zuckerberg and his wife, Chan.
The Zuckerberg-linked research center patented the blood test and has “gained the most control over [it],” Danish Radio reported. The company is also allegedly in charge of commercializing the test.
An expert in contract law from Copenhagen Business School told the station that the collaboration agreement between SSI and Chan Zuckerberg Biohub was a “bad agreement for Denmark.”
The development of the potentially lucrative test was also a bad deal for the unwitting women involved. They were never informed that their blood would be transported to the United States for analysis, and were also unaware that it would be used to pursue commercial interests.
“I feel that my trust and my good intentions have been abused,” one of the women told the Danish outlet.
Although the original SSI project was approved by Denmark’s Science Ethics Committee, a government review concluded that sending the blood samples to the US without clear consent violated data processing rules.
Melbye resigned from SSI this summer after facing scrutiny over his role in the scheme, but has denied any wrongdoing. SSI has apologized for not properly informing the women about the commercial aspects of the project. It doesn’t appear that Chan Zuckerberg Biohub has commented on the Danish report.