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First UK approval for gene editing on human embryos

HFEA approves groundbreaking research application

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 01 February 2016

Fertility regulator the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has approved a research application to allow UK scientists to genetically alter human embryos for the first time.

The application from the Francis Crick Institute in London plans to use new “gene editing” techniques on human embryos to understand the genes that human embryos need to develop successfully.

The work carried out at the Institute, led by Dr Kathy Niakan, a group leader there, will be for research purposes only and will look at the first seven days of a fertilised egg's development (from a single cell to around 250 cells).

The team said the knowledge acquired from the research would be important for understanding how a healthy human embryo develops.

Such knowledge could improve embryo development after in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and could provide better clinical treatments for infertility, using conventional medical methods.

Paul Nurse, director of the Crick, said: “I am delighted that the HFEA has approved Dr Niakan's application. 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.”

In line with HFEA regulations, any donated embryos will be used for research purposes only and cannot be used in treatment.

The embryos will be donated by patients who have given their informed consent to the donation of embryos, which are surplus to their IVF treatment.

The genome editing research now needs to gain ethical approval and, subject to that, the research programme will begin within the next few months.

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