The Philadelphia tragedy that changed gene therapy

Listen 13:55
Jesse Gelsinger, 18, in this undated family photo, poses near a statue at the University of Pennsylvania. Gelsinger, who died Sept. 16, 1999, had signed up to be part of an experimental gene therapy study on ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency, or OTC. (Family Photo via The Arizona Daily Star/AP Photo)

Jesse Gelsinger, 18, in this undated family photo, poses near a statue at the University of Pennsylvania. Gelsinger, who died Sept. 16, 1999, had signed up to be part of an experimental gene therapy study on ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency, or OTC. (Family Photo via The Arizona Daily Star/AP Photo)

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Twenty years ago, 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger died after taking part in a clinical trial for gene therapy at the University of Pennsylvania. The tragedy sent shock waves through Philadelphia’s biotech industry and across the medial world. Meir Rinde, who wrote about the case for the Science History Institute’s magazine Distillations, explains why Gelsinger’s death changed gene therapy.

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