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.
The HFEA has approved an application by developmental biologist Kathy Niakan (in picture), 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. It remains illegal to alter the genomes of embryos used to conceive a child in the United Kingdom, but researchers say that the decision to allow embryo-editing research could inform the debate over deploying gene-editing in embryos for therapeutic uses in the clinic.