China has, in fact, outraced the United States in using the innovative CRISPR technique, the gene-editing tool, to edit the DNA of some people in a number of clinical trials.
There is an emerging issue, however. Scientists have a hard time keeping track of patients who had the experimental gene therapy in the said country.
Gene Therapy In China
While gene therapy is yet in infancy, scientists need to keep tabs of patients who have received gene-editing treatments. According to the Wall Street Journal, a number of cancer patients in China underwent gene modification with the gene-editing tool, CRISPR-Cas9, in the hopes of being cured of the deadly illness.
The problem is that some Chinese scientists who administered the trial have neglected to keep track of patients who underwent gene-editing treatments and do a follow-up examination on them.
DNA modification via the CRISPR technique may lead to what is called the knock-off effects. People who underwent gene-editing treatments would possibly succumb to foreseen health problems such as autoimmune disorder that will manifest years later.
"Since we do not fully understand the human genome and are still developing knowledge of [CRISPR-Cas9 and related technologies], we need to monitor the intended and unintended consequences over the lifespan of patients," explained Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a co-inventor of CRISPR.
The biomedical research in China is currently faced with unintentional consequences of altering the human genome. In November, news of He Jiankui, a Chinese scientist, claiming to be first in the world to present the first gene-edited babies, shocked the scientific community.
Jiankui, who works at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, revealed that he modified the DNA of human embryos, in which twin girls were born, to make them immune to HIV. Following Jiankui's shocking revelation, the Chinese government has taken steps to restrain unacceptable scientific practices.
Use Of CRISPR On Editing Human DNA
In January this year, WSJ reported that around 86 Chinese people have undergone gene editing, with some evidence showing at least 11 human CRISPR trials. The first clinical trial in China, according to the report, was conducted as early as 2015.
In contrast, the first human CRISPR trial was conducted in the United States just this year, at the University of Pennsylvania, involving 18 people. The main objective of the trial was to prove whether it is safe to use the CRISPR technique to edit human DNA.