Experiments that involve gene editing of human embryos have been approved in the UK, researchers announced on 1st February.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, a government agency that overlooks reproductive research and fertility treatments, has granted a license to developmental biologist Kathy Niakan of the Francis Crick Institute in London to conduct the experiments on donated embryos left over from fertility treatments. Niakan hopes to learn about how embryos develop in the first week of life. It will be illegal for the scientists to implant the modified embryos into a woman
What is gene-editing?
Gene-editing is a controversial and powerful technique that has the ability to literally change a someones DNA. By creating a pair of biological ‘scissors’ using bacteria scientists are now able to cut away or replace individual strands of DNA.
What could gene-editing do?
The biggest selling-point for gene-editing is the ability to ‘reprogram’ cells to perform new tasks. One of the most attractive propositions is using the technique to enhance white blood cells so that they can target cancer, making the human body far more efficient at fighting off the cancer cells.
In the case of human embryos there’s even the potential to help parents who have known genetic conditions to have children through IVF while simultaneously eradicating their genetic disease.
One popular case study is the idea that scientist would be able to take the parent DNA, remove the genetic fault that was causing the disease, therefore allowing them to still have a genetic child.
The procedure isn’t without its controversy though and the UK is now only the second place in the world where gene-editing of human embryos has been approved.
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