Scientists Get The ‘Go-Ahead’ To Edit Genes

A team of UK scientists at Francis Crick Institute have been granted the legal right to edit genes in the human embryo for early human development researches. The permission was granted them by the UK’s Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA). This is the first ever of such approval in the world.

Genes are made up of DNAs. DNAs are basically the blue print of life, with gene editing scientists can be able to alter certain characteristics of babies.

Last year, Chinese scientists announced that they carried out gene editing to correct a gene that causes blood disorders in babies. This led to a lot of backlash from critics.

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Dr  Kathy Niakan who will be leading the research explained that,

“We would really like to understand the genes needed for a human embryo to develop successfully into a healthy baby”. She told a briefing in London. “The reason why it is so important is because miscarriages and infertility are extremely common, but they’re not very well understood.We believe that this research could improve our understanding of the very earliest stages of human life.

“The reason why I think this is so important is that most human embryos fail to reach the blastocyst stage. Over 50 per cent will fail so this window is absolutely critical.”

“If we were to understand the genes, it could really help us improve infertility treatment and provide crucial insights into the causes of miscarriage.”

The genetic modifications will be applied on genes that are active on the first few days after conception. The alterations will help the scientists understand birth defects, but the alterations will not be the cure to the defects.

The president of the Francis Crick Institute, Paul Nurse expressed delight in the approval of the research; “I am delighted that the HFEA has approved Dr Niakan’s application,” he said. “Dr Niakan’s proposed research is important for understanding how a healthy human embryo develops and will enhance our understanding of IVF success rates, by looking at the very earliest stage of human development — one to seven days.”

Donated embryos will be used for the research. However, it has not been approved for these genetically altered embryos to be implanted in women. Also, experiments will not commence until the researchers get an approval from the ethics board.

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