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Fertility Regulator In UK Grants Scientists' Request To Edit Human Genetic Code

By February 2, 2016 at 1:52 pm
Fertility Regulator In UK Grants Scientists' Request To Edit Human Genetic Code (Photo : Spencer Platt | Getty Images News)

LONDON, ENGLAND - The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), UK's fertility regulator, has granted a team of scientists' request to edit the human genetic code and find a way to prevent inherited diseases from passing on, HFEA announced on Monday.

The research application, which will be led by embryo and stem cell specialist Kathy Niakan, will not create babies. Besides letting them edit the human genetic code, it will provide them with better understanding on the genes that embryos need to have for a successful development.

Niakan, who is based at Francis Crick Institute in London, is planning to utilize the techniques of gene editing in analyzing the growth of an embryo on its first week.

Furthermore, the team has planned to use the technique called CRISPR-Cas9, which is a cheap, relatively fast and simple approach that a lot of researchers and scientists would like to try.

Apparently, some scientists believe the applications of gene editing could pave way to the development of treatments for hereditary conditions like muscular dystrophy or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Paul Nurse, director of Francis Crick Institute, said Niakan and her team's future studies will give more in-depth understanding of in vitro fertilization's "success rates by looking at the very earliest stage of human development."

According to the report of The Associated Press, the embryos used during the research will not be implanted in women's bodies. They will be permitted to cultivate from a single cell to 250 cells. After the experiments, they will be destroyed.

Although the team's research could probably yield promising results in the medical field, critics raise concerns that tinkering the human genetic code might violate too many ethical proprieties.

They say it could lead to the development of designer babies, prompting parents not only to stop the diseases from passing on to another human, but also giving them the control to decide what kind of children they want to have.

"This is the first step on a path that scientists have carefully mapped out towards the legalization of genetically modified babies," said David King of Human Genetics Alert in December when the issue was brought up by British regulators.

In 2015, Chinese researchers did the first attempt at editing the human genetic code. The experiment was not successful because the embryos failed to develop. But it created the more possibilities that altering genes could repair the next generations' genes, ABC 15 Arizona reports.

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