And Now GM Babies


human embryos

February 1, 2016

UK scientists receive approval to modify human embryos

Less than one year after Chinese researchers revealed that they had genetically modified human embryos, scientists at the Francis Crick Institute in London have gotten the go-ahead to conduct similar experiments, officials at the medical research facility revealed on Monday.

According to Reuters and BBC News, Dr. Kathy Niakan, a stem cell researcher at the Institute, said she and her colleagues had been granted a license to conduct their experiments from the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the division of the UK’s Department of Health that regulates fertility clinics and regulates research involving embryos.

Dr. Niakan’s laboratory told reporters that the research would attempt to shed new light into the first moments of human life, and that they would be banned from implanting modified embryos into a woman. Nonetheless, the research is causing concern among some that it could eventually lead to genetically engineered “designer” babies.David King, director of the UK watchdog Human Genetics Alert, told Reuters that the move was “the first step on a path… toward the legalization of GM babies,” while Dr. Sarah Chan from the University of Edinburgh told BBC News that although such research “touches on some sensitive issues… its ethical implications [had] been carefully considered by the HFEA.”

Experiments will involve recently-fertilized eggs

Reports indicate that the experiments will use CRISPR-Cas9, technology that can identify and correct genetic defects. It is to be conducted during the first seven days following fertilization, a period in which the fertilized egg develops from a single cell into a blastocyst containing 200 to 300 cells.

Once a fertilized egg reaches the blastocyst stage, some of its cells have been organized to play specific roles – forming the placenta or the yolk sac, for example. Some parts of our DNA tend to be very active at this stage in human development, the researchers said, and it is believed that some of these genes play a key role in guiding our early growth.

How and why these processes take place remains a mystery, and experts are uncertain what they are going and what might go wrong genetically prior to a miscarriage. Dr. Niakan, who has been researching human development for more than a decade, will look to modify these genes during their experiments, and will only be using donated embryos, according to BBC News.

HFEA said that experiments could start within the next several months, and Paul Nurse, director of the Crick Institute, said that he was “delighted” that their application had been approved, and that Dr Niakan’s research would be “important for understanding how a healthy human embryo develops and will enhance our understanding of IVF success rates.”

“This project, by increasing our understanding of how the early human embryo develops and grows, will add to the basic scientific knowledge needed for devising strategies to assist infertile couples and reduce the anguish of miscarriage,” said Bruce Whitelaw, an animal biotechnology professor at Edinburgh University’s Roslin Institute. He added that the approval was granted “after robust assessment” of the proposed experiments.