Eoin Treacy's view -
In a quirk of the globalized technology arena, Dr. Wu can forge ahead with the tool because he faces few regulatory hurdles to testing it on humans. His hospital’s review board took just an afternoon to sign off on his trial. He didn’t need national regulators’ approval and has few reporting requirements.
Dr. Wu’s team at Hangzhou Cancer Hospital has been drawing blood from esophageal-cancer patients, shipping it by high-speed rail to a lab that modifies disease-fighting cells using Crispr-Cas9 by deleting a gene that interferes with the immune system’s ability to fight cancer. His team then infuses the cells back into the patients, hoping the reprogrammed DNA will destroy the disease.
In contrast, what’s expected to be the first human Crispr trial outside China has yet to begin. The University of Pennsylvania has spent nearly two years addressing federal and other requirements, including numerous safety checks designed to minimize risks to patients. While Penn hasn’t received final federal clearance to proceed, “we hope to get clearance soon,” a Penn spokeswoman said.
Let’s for a moment consider that different countries have different ethical priorities. After all, we come from highly varied cultural and religious backgrounds. However, the cold reality is China is the wild west of biomedical experimentation. That virtually ensures there will be a human cost. These might be brushed off, by claiming the patient would have died anyway, but there is no doubt the standard of care and Hippocratic oath do not mean the same in China as it does elsewhere.
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