The Breakthrough

The Francis Crick Institute is a new $1.1 billion research center based in London, and it wants to use CRISPR/Cas 9 to do research work without a direct clinical application. From a Francis Crick statement:”To provide further fundamental insights into early human development we are proposing to test the function of genes using gene editing and transfection approaches that are currently permitted under the HFE Act 2008. We also propose to use new methods based on CRIPSR/Cas9, which allows very specific alterations to be made to the genome. 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.”

The Implications

CRISPR/Cas 9 is a potentially world-changing technology, but it raises serious ethical issues about what genes humans should and shouldn’t modify. China doesn’t have as many regulatory hurdles as the United States or the EU, and earlier this year, a Chinese team reported they had used CRISPR/Cas 9 to modify human embryos, although they were non-viable. The US National Institutes of Health still won’t fund gene-editing research in human embryos. The world is watching how the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority will handle the application.


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