United Kingdom the First Nation to Approve Gene Editing ResearchBy Russell Westerholm
The United Kingdom became the first country to approve the practice of editing human DNA, though it will not be legal to design an embryo with which to impregnate a woman.
According to BBC News, the Francis Crick Institute in London will perform the research to try and gain more insight about what goes on during an embryo's earliest stages. One of the most promising possibilities of gene editing is removing or replacing defective genes known to cause disease later in a person's life.
"The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has approved a research application from the Francis Crick Institute to use new 'gene editing' techniques on human embryos," Kathy Niakan, a stem cell scientist at Crick, said in a statement Monday, according to Reuters. "[The work] will be for research purposes and will look at the first seven days of a fertilised egg's development, from a single cell to around 250 cells."
China announced its scientists had edited a human embryo last year, marking a global first. Gene editing is often classified as controversial, as critics believe it could escalate to the point of scientists designing customized babies for prospective mothers. Private labs have been able to conduct experiments with gene editing, though this is the first time a nation's government approved it.
"China has guidelines, but it is often unclear exactly what they are until you've done it and stepped over an unclear boundary," Robin Lovell-Badge, a scientific advisor to the UK's fertility regulator, told BBC News. "This is the first time it has gone through a properly regulatory system and been approved."