Human embryos to be modified genetically in UK

London, Sep 19 (IANS) Researchers have applied to Britain’s regulators to use new “genome editing” techniques on human embryos, says a statement released by the Francis Crick Institute.

Genome editing techniques on human embryos are still seen as “forbidden fruit” in many countries.

Once the the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) approves the application, the research project will focus on understanding the genes human embryos need to develop successfully, and any donated embryos will be used for research purposes only, reports Xinhua news agency.

Editing the genomes of human embryos for a therapeutic use — for example, to eradicate a genetic disease — is illegal in Britain, but research work is possible under license from the HFEA.

The knowledge acquired from the research may improve embryo development after in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and might provide better clinical treatments for infertility, says the statement.

“We also propose to use new methods based on CRIPSR/Cas9, which allows very specific alterations to be made to the genome,” said led author Kathy Niakan.

“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,” said Kathy.

Genome editing has been used in research for a number of years but recent advances and the introduction of the CRISPR-Cas9 (Easy Genome Engineering) system means that work can be done in a more precise way than before.

The stage of embryo development that the research team plan to study also has tremendous potential for stem cell research, which will have benefits and advances in many different fields of medicine.

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