A prenatal take a look at taken by thousands and thousands of pregnant ladies globally was developed by Chinese language gene firm BGI Group in collaboration with the Chinese language army and is being utilized by the agency to gather genetic knowledge, a Reuters evaluate of publicly out there paperwork discovered.
The report is the primary to disclose that the corporate collaborated with the Folks’s Liberation Military (PLA) to develop and enhance the take a look at, taken in early being pregnant, in addition to the scope of BGI’s storage and evaluation of the knowledge. The US sees BGI’s efforts to gather and analyze human gene knowledge as a nationwide safety menace.
China’s largest genomics agency, BGI started advertising the take a look at overseas in 2013. Branded NIFTY, it’s among the many world’s top-selling non-invasive prenatal checks (NIPT). These display screen a pattern of blood from a pregnant girl to detect abnormalities corresponding to Down’s syndrome in a creating fetus.
So way over 8 million ladies globally have taken BGI’s prenatal checks, BGI has stated. NIFTY is bought in at the very least 52 nations, together with Britain, Europe, Canada, Australia, Thailand and India, however not america.
BGI makes use of leftover blood samples despatched to its laboratory in Hong Kong and genetic knowledge from the checks for inhabitants analysis, the corporate confirmed to Reuters. Reuters discovered the genetic knowledge of over 500 ladies who took the take a look at, together with ladies in Europe and Asia, can also be saved within the government-funded China Nationwide GeneBank in Shenzhen, which BGI runs.
Reuters discovered no proof BGI violated privateness agreements or rules; the corporate stated it obtains signed consent and destroys abroad samples and knowledge after 5 years. “At no stage all through the testing or analysis course of does BGI have entry to any identifiable private knowledge,” the corporate stated.
Nonetheless, the take a look at’s privateness coverage says knowledge collected will be shared when it’s “straight related to nationwide safety or nationwide protection safety” in China. BGI stated it “has by no means been requested to offer – nor offered – knowledge from its NIFTY checks to Chinese language authorities for nationwide safety or nationwide protection functions.”
The U.S. Nationwide Counterintelligence and Safety Middle, which has beforehand warned about Chinese language companies amassing well being knowledge, stated in response to Reuters’ findings that ladies taking the NIFTY take a look at overseas needs to be involved by a privateness coverage that permits knowledge to be shared with Chinese language safety companies.
“Non-invasive prenatal testing kits marketed by Chinese language biotech companies serve an essential medical operate, however they will additionally present one other mechanism for the Folks’s Republic of China and Chinese language biotech corporations to gather genetic and genomic knowledge from across the globe,” the middle stated.
China’s overseas ministry stated Reuters’ findings mirrored “groundless accusations and smears” of U.S. companies.
Different corporations promoting such prenatal checks additionally re-use knowledge for analysis. However none function on the dimensions of BGI, scientists and ethicists say, or have BGI’s hyperlinks to a authorities or its monitor file with a nationwide army.
BGI started working with Chinese language army hospitals to review the genomes of fetuses in 2010 and has revealed over a dozen joint research with PLA researchers to trial and enhance its prenatal checks, the Reuters evaluate of greater than 100 public paperwork confirmed.
The PLA Normal Hospital in Beijing and Third Army Medical College in Chongqing ran scientific trials on the NIFTY take a look at in 2011. They labored with BGI researchers to broaden the genetic abnormalities the take a look at screens for, papers revealed in 2019 and 2020 present.
In a single instance, the PLA Normal Hospital labored with BGI on the primary Chinese language prenatal trial to display screen for dwarfism, which BGI later dropped at market.
Additionally, a BGI research revealed in 2018 used a army supercomputer to re-analyze NIFTY knowledge and map the prevalence of viruses in Chinese language ladies, search for indicators of psychological sickness in them, and single out Tibetan and Uyghur minorities to search out hyperlinks between their genes and their traits.
In addition to genetic details about the fetus and mom, the testing course of captures private info, such because the buyer’s nation, weight, top, and medical historical past, in accordance with BGI pc code reviewed by Reuters. The shopper’s identify is just not collected.
Reuters spoke to a lady who took the take a look at in 2020, a 32-year-old workplace administrator in Poland. She stated that if she had identified her knowledge could possibly be shared with the Chinese language authorities, or understood the extent of BGI’s secondary analysis, she would have chosen a unique take a look at.
“I need to know what is going on with such delicate knowledge about me, corresponding to my genome and that of my youngster,” stated the girl, Emilia, who requested to be recognized solely by her first identify.