UK scientists gain licence to edit genes in human embryos
Team at Francis Crick Institute permitted to use CRISPR–Cas9 technology in embryos for early-development research.
Scientists in London have been granted permission to edit the genomes of human embryos for research, UK fertility regulators announced. The 1 February approval by the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) represents the world’s first endorsement of such research by a national regulatory authority.
“It’s an important first. The HFEA has been a very thoughtful, deliberative body that has provided rational oversight of sensitive research areas, and this establishes a strong precedent for allowing this type of research to go forward,” says George Daley, a stem-cell biologist at Children’s Hospital Boston in Massachusetts.
The HFEA has approved an application by developmental biologist Kathy Niakan, at the Francis Crick Institute in London, to use the genome-editing technique CRISPR–Cas9 in healthy human embryos. Niakan’s team is interested in early development, and it plans to alter genes that are active in the first few days after fertilization. The researchers will stop the experiments after seven days, after which the embryos will be destroyed.
The genetic modifications could help researchers to develop treatments for infertility, but will not themselves form the basis of a therapy.