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BGI and the China National Genebank’s (CNGB) Collaboration with the Ministry of Science and Technology in the First Conference on Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) on Science and Technology in Thailand
Publish Date: 2017-10-11

September 29, 2017, the National Science Technology and Innovation Policy Office (STI), National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) and Thailand Center of Excellence for Life Science (TCELS) under Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) hosted the First Conference on Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) on Science and Technology in Thailand: “Applications and Challenges of Trans-omics in the future”. BGI was invited to present professionals experienced in the field of bioethics. This conference, held in Bangkok, was attended by over 100 Thai experts specializing in science, technology, medicine, and ethics.

During the opening ceremony, the Thai Minister of Science and Technology, H.E. Dr. Atchaka Sibunruang, happily reminisced about her visit to Shenzhen. She was very impressed by the excellent work done in the CNGB and BGI; Thailand’s Ministry of Science and Technology is planning to follow China’s example, and establish a national genebank of their own. Based BGI and the CNGB’s experience, she acknowledged the importance of addressing bioethical concerns in conjunction with the development of genomics. With this in mind, she warmly welcomed Chinese bioethics experts to Thailand in hopes of discussing their experiences with genomic opportunities and challenges.

Prof. Zhaozheng Guo , the Chairman of Institutional Review Board (IRB) of China National Gene Bank, Chairman of BGI-IRB, and Executive Director of BGI Bioethics Center, represented BGI by thanking the minister’s gracious invitation, and wishing for the conference to be a complete success.

Prof. Yongyuth Yuthavong, former Minister of Science and Technology of Thailand, started the conference by introducing the history of science technology and innovation in Thailand. He emphasized that Thai society needs to discuss the ethical, legal, and social implications of the rapid development of genomics. Prof. Fred Dubee, former Senior Officer to the Executive Office of the UN Secretary General, expressed the importance of developing biotechonolgy on a community-based framework grounded in respectful dialogue; biotechnology must center on humanistic approaches and mutual trust. Prof. Xiaomei Zhai of Peking Union Medical College explored ethical issues related to human genome editing, giving a detailed account of China's relevant science and technology policies.

On the subject of China’s experience with the management of the Human Genome project, Prof. Ming Qi  from Zhejiang University introduced how confidentiality is relevant to genetic testing and genetic counseling, which captured the interest of the attendees. Prof. Wei Zhu  of Fudan University followed up with China’s experiences in ethical approaches to regulating genetic testing, highlighting specific issues for Thailand to consider.

Professor Ruipeng Lei , Dean of the Department of Philosophy at Huazhong University of Science and Technology, gave an overview of ethical and policy issues of synthetic biology from a Chinese perspective. Shengping Han , CNGB’s Project Manager of Collaboration and Alliance, shared an account of the CNGB’s construction. Prof. Zhaozheng Guo  presented BGI’s public health projects, specifically thalassemia gene testing and diagnosis of hydatid disease, and introduced BGI’s measures for ethical review in biomedical research involving humans.  

The conference also organized a discussion panel involving Prof. Nik Zeps, Director of the Research and Development Group of Australia's Aihua Healthcare and Development Group;  Hui Kang, Director of the Center for Bioethics and Genetic Resources Management in China; Prof. Soraj Hongladarom, Director of the Center for Ethics of Science and Technology at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand; and Dr. Jakris Eu-ahsunthornwatana of Thailand’s Mahidol University. They shared their experiences with ELSI of genomic development within their respective countries. It was agreed that encouraging public involvement, especially through science education for primary and secondary school students, was an important way to prepare society for the era of genomics.

After enthusiastic discussion between experts and scholars, the conference reached a successful conclusion at 5 PM.

"Holding the candle, escorting the effort" is the mission statement of both the CNGB and BGI’s IRB. This conference brought together experts and scholars pioneering the field of bioethics in China, Thailand, and Australia to discuss ELSI of science and technology, and the diverse perspectives of each country.

This conference was to provide ethical guidance for future projects between Thailand’s Ministry of Science and Technology and BGI; it was a productive and collaborative discussion.