UK Scientists Want Licence To Genetically Modify Human Embryos

Posted: Sep 21 2015, 6:10am CDT | by , Updated: Sep 21 2015, 2:17pm CDT , in Latest Science News


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UK Scientists Want Licence to Genetically Modify Human Embryos
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  • British Genetic Engineers seek Permits to Practice Gene Editing in Human Embryos

UK genetic engineers have sought permits in order to practice gene editing in human embryos.

Several scientists in London have sought permission to edit the genomic sequences of human embryos. This is the first time such a bold step has been taken. Kathy Niakan, who is associated with the Francis Crick Institute, wants to use gene editing to look into the basic processes of early human evolution. She and her team want to use the CRISPR/Cas9 system to do the job. This is the latest state-of-the-art technology that will be used to edit genomes.

Gene editing of human embryos – even for the sake of disease prevention – is illegal in the UK.

However, research is allowed although the support for such a radically interventionist step is weak. You need a license to practice such risky work from the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

Earlier on this year, Nature reported that a group of scientists from China had used this technology for purposes of gene editing in human embryos. However, the Chinese used embryos that didn’t make it alive out of the mother’s womb. That was the catch in the whole thing.

The fact that a viable human embryo will be used for experimentation purposes means that a great risk is being taken. Genetic flaws that led to diseases are to be corrected with precision and finesse. And while China too has laws regarding gene editing, they are thinking of beginning the work on real live embryos although it will indeed be a plunge into the unknown.

Kathy Niakan’s job will be the first one that is done using a practitioner’s licence. Many public debates have taken place regarding this contentious issue. There are those who say that taking on the role that is normally assigned to Mother Nature is a fool’s errand. They may be right.

"To provide further fundamental insights into early human development we are proposing to test the function of genes using gene editing and transfection approaches that are currently permitted under the HFE Act 2008," Dr Niakan said in a statement.

We also propose to use new methods based on CRIPSR/Cas9, which allows very specific alterations to be made to the genome. By applying more precise and efficient methods in our research we hope to require fewer embryos and be more successful than the other methods currently used.

"Importantly, in line with HFEA regulations, any donated embryos would be used for research purposes only. These embryos would be donated by informed consent and surplus to IVF treatment."

The fact that there is a fine line between genius and madness is not lost on those who speak against the practice. They say that we ought to let sleeping dogs lie. The step ought to be taken with the utmost forethought. Otherwise it could sound the death knell for all human reason and rationality.

While the United States has reaffirmed its ban on all such projects which reek of biological intervention too close to home, the UK is dithering on whether it ought to allow or disallow the act. The great value of disease prevention by gene deletion is being considered a boon for humanity.

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