The CRISPR-Cas9 system has spread to labs around the globe, proving that it is a revolutionary DNA editing technique. In short, CRISPR allows us to edit DNA – the source code of life – cheaply and with remarkable precision.
Thanks to this technique, we can start tackling genetic diseases like down’s syndrome and global killers like HIV.
But this technique gives many individuals pause.
Much has been said about gene editing technology, particularly when talk veers towards the ethics behind such advancements. Despite what it could do as far as paving the way for breakthroughs in the field of medical research and healthcare, even CRISPR-CAS9 founder Jennifer Doudna continues to argue for the ethical responsibility that the scientific community must assume when dealing with this tool.
However, today, the debate just took a new turn.
Scientists from the UK were just given the go-ahead to genetically modify human embryos. The proposal just went through the proper regulatory system and was approved.
Yet, despite being given approval, the regulatory committee cites one very specific rule: Scientists are not allowed to implant the modified embryo into a woman i.e., it cannot be brought to term.
This marks the first time that the process of gene editing has passed through a proper regulatory committee—the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA)—who exists to ensure that scientific objectives are still in keeping with social interests.
Experiments on the embryo will take place in the first seven days after fertilization, and the team will be lead by Dr. Kathy Niakan, a ten-year veteran researcher of human development.
During this time frame, the embryo transitions from a fertilized egg to a structure called a blastocyst, containing 200-300 cells.
"We would really like to understand the genes needed for a human embryo to develop successfully into a healthy baby…The reason why it is so important is because miscarriages and infertility are extremely common, but they're not very well understood," she explains.
The researchers will be conducting tests on donated embryos with tests being eyed to begin in the next few months.