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Wednesday, 13 January 2016

British scientists could genetically edit human embryos by March -

British scientists could genetically edit human embryos by March - 

British scientists could be genetically modifying human embryos by March if regulators give the green light to the controversial technique.
On Thursday the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) meets to decide whether to give permission to the Francis Crick Institute to carry out landmark experiments to alter the DNA of leftover embryos from IVF clinics.
The team at Francis Crick want to deactivate genes in the embryos to see if it hinders development.

Currently around 50 per cent of fertilised eggs do not develop properly and experts believe that faulty genetic code could be responsible. If scientists knew which genes were crucial for healthy cell division, then they could screen out embryos where their DNA was not working properly, potentially preventing miscarriages and aiding fertility.
The initial pilot, which will also have to pass an ethics evaluation, will involve up to 30 embryos and the team would like to work on a further three genes, which could bring the total of to 120.
Critics warn that allowing embryos to be edited opens the door to designer babies and genetically modified humans.

But lead scientist Dr Kathy Niakan said that the research could fundamentally change our understanding of human biology and give hope to prospective parents.
“We would really like to understand the genes that are needed for an embryo to develop into a healthy baby,” she told a briefing in central London.
“Miscarriage and infertility are extremely common but they are not very well understood. We believe that this research could improve our understanding of the very earliest stages of human life.
“The reason why I think this is so important is that most human embryos fail to reach the blastocyst stage. Over 50 per cent will fail so this window is absolutely critical.
“If we were to understand the genes, it could really help us improve infertility treatment and provide crucial insights into the causes of miscarriage.”

The team at Francis Crick are already in talks with fertility clinics across the country to use their spare embryos.
Currently it is not illegal to edit human embryos for research purposes although it has never been done before because they technology has not been available. When China announced it had carried out similar experiments last year there was a widespread outcry.
All cells in a human embryo have the same DNA code, but they divide into specialised cells depending on gene expression.
Between day five and seven of human development and embryo has around 200 cells of three different types. One set will go on to form the foetus , while another type becomes the placenta, and the third kind the yolk sac which nourishes growing baby. The aim of the new project is to find out what causes the cells to turn into different kinds, a process known as ‘lineage specification.’
The new genetic editing technique, called Crispr, acts like molecular scissors to snip out part of the DNA code so that scientists can see if it was needed.
Dr Niakan said: “If you imagine the genome as volumes in an encyclopaedia, at some point in the development some of the cells will start to read a different volume compared to its neighbour cell. One cell will read a volume slightly differently even though they have the same library.”
“Crispr is so efficient and precise that it can go inside a single volume, open up, a specific page, identify a single word, and alter a single letter,” added Prof Niakan.


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