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U.K. regulators give the go ahead to modify human embryos
by Brooks Hays
London (UPI) Feb 1, 2016

Eight-day-old conjoined twins seperated in Switzerland
Bern, Switzerland (UPI) Feb 1, 2016 - Two eight-day-old conjoined sisters were separated in what are believed to be the youngest babies ever separated, doctors said Sunday.

The twins, named Lydia and Maya, were joined at the liver, but had all other separate vital organs, Swiss media said.

A medical team of 13 performed the highly risky five-hour operation at Inselspital Hospital in Bern in December, with only a one percent chance of success.

The mother also gave birth to a triplet who was separate and healthy.

Doctors planned to do the operation several months later, but because an inbalance in blood flow, giving one of the twins too much blood and the other too little, the operation was done when the twins were just eight-days old.

The twin girls have since undergone surgery to close their abdominal walls. Both are recovering and have begun breast feeding.

The hospital says the two are "still very small" but doing well.

Health regulators in the United Kingdom have granted permission for a team of scientists to genetically modify human embryos.

The decisions comes just a few months after a team of scientists led by Kathy Niakan, a stem cell researcher at the Francis Crick Institute in London, submitted the application to edit human embryonic DNA.

It was the first such application and the forthcoming experiments will be the first time human embryos are modified in U.K. labs. Though controversy is likely to surround the decision, it's one most within the scientific community saw coming.

Earlier this summer, when a team of Chinese scientists announced they had successfully altered the genetic code of a human embryo, disapproving grumbles echoed throughout the science world.

But go-ahead in England is markedly different than past experiments in Asia, which were unsanctioned. The OK from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is the first endorsement of embryonic editing work by a national regulatory authority.

"I am delighted that the HFEA has approved Dr. Niakan's application," Crick director Paul Nurse said in a statement. "Dr. Niakan's proposed research is important for understanding how a healthy human embryo develops and will enhance our understanding of IVF success rates, by looking at the very earliest stage of human development."

The team's planned embryonic editing experiments are intended for research purposes only -- to gain insight into the nature of embryonic development and the origins of genetic diseases.

Researchers predict the approval will embolden scientists in other countries to forge ahead with and seek approval for their own embryonic editing plans.

As well, the concerns of critics will likely become amplified. If an edited embryo was brought to birth, genetic changes could be introduced to the human gene pool. There is worry that the manipulation of genes to correct for one disease could inadvertently introduce new types of genetic diseases. There is also the more far-fetched concern that the technology could pave the way for "designer babies."

But most researchers agree that scientists are a ways off from such problems.


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