Human gene ‘editing’ gets first green light from UK Regulator


For the first time in the UK, scientists have won the right to edit gene activity in human embryos.

UK regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has approved a research application made by Dr Kathy Naikan , of the Francis Crick Institute in London, at the forefront of global research into the use a new technology called CRISPR. The aim of the research is to develop is to develop CRISP so it allows scientists to edit genes very precisely.

The HFEA released a statement saying: “The committee has added a condition to the license that no research using gene editing may take place until the research has received our research ethics committee’s approval. As with all embryos used in research it is illegal to transfer them to a woman for treatment.”

A scientist works during an IVF process. / Source: BBC.

A scientist works during an IVF process. / Source: Washington Post.

The embryos will  be donated by couples undergoing IVF treatment who do not need them and will be destroyed two weeks later. Dr Naikan has said that CRISPR will allow scientists to turn the genes on and off in day-old embryos and find out which genes control early human development. She said: “it could lead into insights into some causes of miscarriage and provide us with information about developments in infertility treatment.” It could mean that the embryo with the greatest chance of developing could be implanted or genetics could be “tweaked” to maximise an embryo’s chance of survival.   

But the research has come with controversy as it has opened the door for genetically modified or ‘designer’ babies. Last year, scientists in China announced that they had carried out gene editing in human embryos to correct a gene that caused a blood disorder. Professor Robin Lovell-Badge told the BBC: “China has guidelines, but it is often unclear what they are until you’ve done it and stepped over an unclear boundary.” He went on to say that this was the first time the research had gone through a proper regulatory system and been approved.


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