Home » News » United Kingdom scientists ask to use CRISPR on human embryos

crispr image14

A team of stem cell researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London has applied for approval from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, or HFEA, a national regulatory body, to genetically modify human embryos. According to the scientists, this is to better understand what happens in the earliest stages of human development and hopefully reduce the incidence of miscarriages.

Altering an embryo’s genes for therapeutic purposes is considered illegal in most countries, stemming from concerns that the technology will be used to create designer babies, or those who are genetically modified for beauty, intelligence or to be free of diseases. In April 2015, a group of Chinese researchers from the Sun Yat-sen University came under fire after admitting that they altered the genes of human embryos in their attempt to eliminate a genetic blood disorder.

In the United Kingdom, however, this method is possible for research purposes with approval from the HFEA. Should HFEA grant permission for the study, it will be the first approval of such nature from a national regulatory body in any part of the world. The British scientists claim that their study seeks to improve embryo development after in vitro fertilization, or IVF, and might provide better clinical treatments for infertility. They also clarified that the embryos they plan to use would be donated by couples who have excess embryos during IVF and that these embryos will simply be destroyed after being used to study the early stages of embryonic development.

For the study, the research team will employ a gene-editing tool known as CRISPR/Cas9 to turn certain genes on and off in very early-stage human embryos. With this technique, which works like a biological cut-and-paste tool, the researchers will use a protein to seek out a particular gene and cut it out of the genome, replacing it with DNA of their choice. The CRISPR/Cas9, which has been around for the past three years, was also used by the Chinese researchers in their study. As a result, there’s been a clamour from other scientists and watchdog groups to impose a moratorium or ban on all research projects which use this technique. They fear that if these embryos could be grown to term, their new traits would be heritable, which will be a major ethical breach.

Meanwhile, a team of leading scientists issued a joint statement against the demand for moratorium, claiming that this technology could also be incredibly useful for researchers. “We believe that genome editing technologies may hold significant potential for clinical application in the future; and we would be open to supporting the development of new therapeutic approaches should the evidence from research advance sufficiently to justify their use,” they said in a statement. The HFEA said the request from Francis Crick Institute researchers will be considered in due course.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.