Who: Licence to use gene editing techniques on human embryos
What: Approved by the UK Government
When: 1 February 2016
Why: To understand infertility issues
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) of United Kingdom on 1 February 2016 granted license to the Francis Crick Institute to use new gene editing techniques on human embryos.
Under the license, the institute will be allowed to genetically modify human embryos for research purposes in order to better understand infertility and miscarriage issues.
With this issuance of license, the UK became one of the first countries in the world to give authorization for experimentation on human embryos. Earlier, China allowed similar research on a limited scale.
Details related to the research
• The aim of the research, led by Dr Kathy Niakan, is to understand the genes human embryos need to develop successfully.
• 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).
• The knowledge acquired from the research will be important for understanding how a healthy human embryo develops.
• This knowledge may improve embryo development after in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and might provide better clinical treatments for infertility, using conventional medical methods.
• In line with HFEA regulations, any donated embryos will be used for research purposes only and cannot be used in treatment.
• These embryos will be donated by patients who have given their informed consent to the donation of embryos which are surplus to their IVF treatment.
However, the genome editing research needs to gain ethical approval and, subject to that approval, the research programme will begin. Theethical approval to the project is of prime concern as some critics warned about the potential of creating designer babies by using the gene editing techniques.