Prenatal Test Developed With Chinese Military Harvests Gene Data From Millions of Women
A prenatal test taken by millions of pregnant women globally was developed by Chinese gene company BGI Group in collaboration with the Chinese military and is being used by the firm to collect genetic data, a Reuters review of publicly available documents found. From the report: The report is the first to reveal that the company collaborated with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to develop and improve the test, taken in early pregnancy, as well as the scope of BGI’s storage and analysis of the data. The United States sees BGI’s efforts to collect and analyze human gene data as a national security threat. China’s biggest genomics firm, BGI began marketing the test abroad in 2013. Branded NIFTY, it is among the world’s top selling non-invasive prenatal tests (NIPT). These screen a sample of blood from a pregnant woman to detect abnormalities such as Down’s syndrome in a developing fetus. So far more than 8 million women globally have taken BGI’s prenatal tests, BGI has said. NIFTY is sold in at least 52 countries, including Britain, Europe, Canada, Australia, Thailand and India, but not the United States.

BGI uses leftover blood samples sent to its laboratory in Hong Kong and genetic data from the tests for population research, the company confirmed to Reuters. Reuters found the genetic data of over 500 women who took the test, including women in Europe and Asia, is also stored in the government-funded China National GeneBank in Shenzhen, which BGI runs. Reuters found no evidence BGI violated privacy agreements or regulations; the company said it obtains signed consent and destroys overseas samples and data after five years. “At no stage throughout the testing or research process does BGI have access to any identifiable personal data,” the company said. However, the test’s privacy policy says data collected can be shared when it is “directly relevant to national security or national defense security” in China. BGI said it “has never been asked to provide — nor provided — data from its NIFTY tests to Chinese authorities for national security or national defense purposes.” “Non-invasive prenatal testing kits marketed by Chinese biotech firms serve an important medical function, but they can also provide another mechanism for the People’s Republic of China and Chinese biotech companies to collect genetic and genomic data from around the globe,” the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center said.

China’s foreign ministry said Reuters’ findings reflected “groundless accusations and smears” of U.S. agencies.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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