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Scientists Seek Permission to Edit human DNA


British scientists have applied for permission to edit the DNA in human embryos, as part of a research project, the guardian reports.

Kathy Niakan, from The Francis Crick Institute in London and her colleagues have filed an application with the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) for a license to perform genome editing on human embryos.

"To provide further fundamental insights into early human development we are proposing to test the function of genes using gene editing and transfection approaches," Niakan said in a written statement released by the institute.

The researchers said that their study would only be aimed only at obtaining basic understanding of the genes human embryos need to develop. The embryos would not be used to try to create a baby. The research would use embryos left over at fertility clinics, donated by couples with a surplus after IVF treatment.

Niakan said the procedure would be used to find genes at play in the first few days of human fertilization and could help scientists understand why some women lose their babies before term.

"The knowledge we acquire will be very important for understanding how a healthy human embryo develops, and this will inform our understanding of the causes of miscarriage. It is not a slippery slope [towards designer babies] because the UK has very tight regulation in this area," she told the Guardian.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) have yet to review her application. The existing laws permit the grant of a licence for experiments on embryos provided they are destroyed within 14 days.

Niakan will employ a powerful new genome editing procedure called Crispr-Cas9, a revolutionary process that allows scientists to make precise changes to DNA, thus allowing for the treatment of genetic disorders by correcting faulty genes.

Debate about genetic modification of human embryos intensified in April, when Chinese scientists reported that they had used the technique to edit the DNA in human embryos for the first time.


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