Current research on the NiFTY pre-natal test shows that the genetic data of pregnant women are also to be analyzed in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong – The Chinese company BGI has been selling a pre-natal test for years, which is supposed to use genetic analysis in pregnant women to show whether their children are born with a genetic defect or another disease. The test is offered by German gynecologists – and already used by over 8 million women worldwide. This is reported by the Reuters news agency.
The problem: The test samples are evaluated in Hong Kong – a special administrative region of China. Even if German companies come to an agreement with the Chinese manufacturer on the application of European data protection laws, this does not guarantee that they will adhere to them. At least the information sheet that the pregnant women had to fill out before the test had been removed from the option of releasing their own data for genetic analysis, according to Reuters. However, this alone does not seem to solve the problem.
Gene analysis of pregnant women: what else is the data used for in China?
Apparently there is a connection between the Chinese government and the company. The BGI Group owns one of the world’s largest gene databases. This is largely financed by the Chinese government. The city of Shenzhen, where the company is headquartered, has also held shares in the company since 2014.
In addition, according to Reuters, the Chinese government has the right to request genetic data if it is considered relevant for national security. BGI itself said that it had never been asked by the Chinese government. These data have never been released. However, that doesn’t have to mean anything for the future.
China: Improving the quality of the population through genetic analysis
According to research by Reuters, the test was developed to improve population quality. The data sets should be searched for predispositions to mental and physical illnesses. In addition, the data on the oppressed minorities from Tibet and Xinjiang are extracted and analyzed separately. According to Reuters, particular attention is paid to connections between the genetic conditions and characteristics of these population groups.
Another point that leaves one puzzled: According to Reuters, the Chinese government forbids researchers from outside the country to access the genetic data of Chinese citizens. Although, in the name of scientific progress, that is exactly what is common practice. It remains to be seen how this will develop in the future. (Clara Marie Tietze)