Rules to protect genetic resources
( 2003-11-25 00:24) (China Daily)
China does not oppose foreign institutions carrying out human genetic resources research in the country, but they must strictly obey all relevant laws and regulations, an official said Monday in Beijing.
All co-operative international projects in human genetic resources research in China should follow the principles of equality, mutual benefit and joint participation; and the achievements and patents must be owned and shared by both the foreign and domestic sides, Yu Xiucheng said.
Yu is the director of the Division of Health Technology Management of the Department of Sciences, Technology and Education of the Ministry of Health.
There is also another vital principle that all such projects must abide by -- respecting and protecting the research subjects' right to know what is being done.
Without an agreement based on the above mentioned principles signed by the two sides, such projects cannot be conducted in China, and any samples of human genetic resources gathered during such projects cannot be taken abroad.
"We mainly protect the genetic resources of people of the same genealogy who have lived in a place for a quite long time, groups of people with the same or special diseases, and groups of people living in certain areas,'' Yu noted.
For example, one hepatitis B patient's genetic samples may have no research value. However, thousands of such patients' samples are of great value for scientific research and should be protected, Yu added.
Human genetic resources refer to such things as human gene groups, blood, genes, organs, cells, and other DNA materials of human beings.
Yu made these remarks to China Daily in an exclusive interview which focused on many people's worries that a lot of China's human genetic resources are being lost to other countries during gene research work conducted by foreign institutions in China.
Some cases have been reported in recent years in which foreign companies or institutions secretly conducted human genetic research in China without revealing what they were doing and took a lot of genetic resources out of the country or kept the patent rights resulting from gene research done in China for themselves.
The Harvard-affiliated projects involving Chinese farmers in East China's Anhui Province in the early 1990s are an example of this.
The projects collected over 10,000 gene samples from farmers for research on asthma without notifying them what the research was for, according to Xinhua News Agency.
After that case, in 1998, the State Council issued a temporary document on the management of human genetic resources.
And to back up the document, the ministries of health and science and technology jointly circulated, in late September 2003, a notice asking for the strengthening of the management of special medical projects, including those dealing with human genetic resources, both inside and outside China.
"Our management and protection of human genetic resources has become much stricter and more scientific, but this does not mean we reject all international co-operation, which, on the contrary, is still necessary in some fields,'' said Yu, who is also a member of the Chinese Human Genetic Resources Management Office.
The office was jointly established by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Science and Technology in 1998 and is in charge of all matters dealing with Chinese human genetic resources management.
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