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An infusion pump and bag filled with liquid is placed on a stand in a hospital room.

In the U.S., the first planned clinical trials of CRISPR gene editing in people are about to kick off. China, meanwhile, has been racing ahead, having already used the gene-altering tool to change the DNA of dozens of people in several clinical trials.

The Wall Street Journal reports that so far in China, at least 86 people have had their genes edited, and there is evidence of at least 11 Chinese clinical trials using CRISPR. One of those trials, the WSJ found, began a year earlier than previously reported, putting the start of the first Chinese CRISPR trial in 2015.

China’s rapid advancement is the result of more relaxed regulations, and a willingness to forge ahead with cutting-edge research despite potential unknowns and safety concerns, which are significant. One recent paper, for example, suggested that CRISPR could trigger an immune response in a majority of patients, which could render potential treatments either ineffective or dangerous. China’s rapid-fire approach has set off a biomedical duelbetween the U.S. and China, and sparked concerns among Western scientists that the Chinese ...