U.K. first to approve gene editing of human embryos for research

Embryo

A research study involving gene editing on early human embryos (8-cell embryo about three days post-fertilization shown) has been given the go-ahead in England. 

Dr. Yorgos Nikas/Science Source

Experiments involving gene editing of human embryos have been approved in the United Kingdom, researchers announced February 1.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, a government agency that oversees reproductive research and fertility treatments, has granted a license to developmental biologist Kathy Niakan of the Francis Crick Institute in London to conduct the experiments on donated embryos left over from fertility treatments. Niakan hopes to learn more about how embryos develop in the first week of life.

Such research has been controversial and was the subject of an international summit in Washington, D.C., in December. Leaders of that meeting drafted a statement saying that gene editing for research purposes is acceptable, as long as no pregnancies result. The United Kingdom is the first nation to approve such research.

An ethics committee, which includes members of the general public, must now review Niakan’s application and give its approval before the research can move ahead. 

Tina Hesman Saey

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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