by Brooks Hays
London (UPI) Feb 1, 2016
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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