New 'gene-editing' techniques approved
2 Feb 2016
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has approved a research application to use new "gene editing" techniques on human embryos.
Dr Kathy Niakan’s group at the Francis Crick Institute will investigate how a healthy human embryo develops during the first seven days of its life.
In these seven days a human embryo changes from a single fertilised egg into a structure called a blastocyst, containing 200-300 cells.
Dr Niakan’s team plan to begin by using CRISPR technology to knock out the OCT4 gene, which is likely to be critical for pluripotent cells in the early embryo in humans, in the same way as it is in mice. She hopes that CRISPR will lead to greater understanding of the factors needed for a human embryo to develop in a healthy way.
The embryos used in the study will be donated by IVF patients who give informed consent to the donation of embryos surplus to their fertility treatment requirements.
Dr Rob Buckle, Director of Science Programmes at the Medical Research Council, said: “Today’s decision by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority cements the UK’s position as a global leader for research. As genome editing techniques develop it’s vital that this work continues within a robust and adaptable regulatory framework so that its full potential can be realised in a scientific, ethical and legally rigorous way.”
Any laboratory research involving the human germ line, including embryos of up to 14 days of age, requires a licence from HFEA.
This stage of the approval process looks at the scientific quality of the application only. The next step for Dr Niakan’s group is to gain ethical approval for the study.
Header image: Embryo with OCT4 gene highlighted in green. Credit: Francis Crick Institute.