Scientists in the UK have been given a licence to edit the genes of human embryos. A team at the Francis Crick Institute, led by the embryologist Dr Kathy Niakan, applied for the license in September. Now, the Human Fertilisation and Authority (HFEA) has granted the team’s request.
However, this doesn’t mean that the research can now go ahead. There is another hurdle – ethical approval of the study itself. But the granting of a licence is a key step. The team will use a new genetic modification technique called CRISPR, which allows very specific edits to be made to genomes.
They hope that by removing genes from, or adding them to, the early embryo, they will be able to learn more about how healthy embryos develop. The research could help develop treatments for infertility. It could also help research into stem cells, which could lead to other medical breakthroughs.