British Researchers Get Approval To Genetically Modify Human Embryos

British Researchers Get Approval to Genetically Modify Human Embryos

Less than a year after scientists in China became the first to genetically modify human embryos, a research team in Britain has been given the green light to perform similar work. It's a huge moment in biotech history — one that could eventually lead to "designer babies". Last September, scientists at London's Francis Crick Institute asked the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HEFA) for permission to perform gene editing work on human embryos. Their request has now been granted, potentially paving the way for other similar work. Human germline editing is deemed controversial because any baby born through the technique has the potential to pass those genetically modified traits down to the next generation. Advocates of the practice say it could eliminate a host of genetic diseases, while at the same time introducing the possibility of human enhancement.

"The work carried out at the Crick will be for research purposes and will look at the first seven days of a fertilised egg's development (from a single cell to around 250 cells)," noted the lab in a statement. "The knowledge acquired from the research will be important for understanding how a healthy human embryo develops." Geneticist Kathy Niakan will be overseeing the work.

This line of research is poised to improve our understanding of embryonic development during in vitro fertilisation, and could result in better clinical treatments using conventional methods. At the same time, the work will give scientists an opportunity to refine their CRISPR techniques when working with human embryos. CRISPR is a powerful cut-and-paste tool that enables scientists to modify or replace genetic defects, or introduce new characteristics altogether.

According to HEFA's guidelines, all embryos must be used for research purposes only, and they cannot be used in fertility treatments. These embryos will be acquired through donations made by patients currently undergoing IVF therapy. These restrictions are similar to the ones agreed upon (in principle) by researchers in the US. Formal guidelines for US researchers are expected later this year.

The scientists still need to pass one more hurdle. An ethics board will now review their application. If approved, the program will likely start in the next few months.

Britain is establishing itself as a world leader in the field. Back in 2014, it became the first country to legalise a controversial three-parent reproductive technique.

[Reuters UK]

Top image: ICSI

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    Saw a bit about this on the news and there was more negative than positive feed back regarding this.
    Now im not much on one for following these types of headlines but what is so wrong with human engineering (apart form religious reasons)? Why is there so much hate towards it? couldnt human engineering essentially eliminate some defects / diseases? make us live longer, healthier etc...
    More importantly, when am I going to get my genetically engineered anime cat girl girlfriend?!?!

      Just looking at the positive things is fine and I'm all for it, but there are serious negatives as well, particularly if you are in the poorer end of the pool. The rich will make their kids into super humans and the poor will be left behind. If you haven't seen it yet, watch Gattaca and you'll get the gist of it.

      Last edited 02/02/16 2:05 pm

        Gattaca was a movie though... Pretty much all SciFi movies post a bleak, cynical, scary view of the future and basically boil down to "there is this new awesome looking thing we can do but turns out we shouldn't and the traditional way is best"

        movies that go "there is this new awesome thing we can do, and it is awesome, sucks to be you for not living in the future!" probably wouldn't gel as well with audiences.

        Having said that I do feel like the general population and the governments are increasingly being left behind in the capacity to maturely deal with the innovation of our scientists. Its almost like a new dark age is upon is with the way governments and the general population almost spitefully disregard technology and scientific wisdom. In short, our civilization and enlightenment isn't evolving quickly enough for our technology.

          Nah, there are plenty of movies (don't ask me to name them) that show positive or normal reality or scifi, it's just that most have the tech or innovation already baked into the story which was about something else. Everything that can be called a technological enhancement happens because the economy drags it there regardless of what people think. Shits gonna happen when the stage is set.

          Last edited 02/02/16 4:22 pm

    Meanwhile all the lawyers are wringing their hands with glee, thinking of all the money they will make representing these engineered humans when they sue their parents for their decisions.

    I can see it now... "No your honour, I did not want a 6 foot long schlong... I wanted a 7 foot long schlong and therefore my parents must pay me for a life of shame and misery".

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