Healthcare Technology Featured Article

February 01, 2016

Scientists in U.K. to Begin Genetic Experiments on Human Embryos

It sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, but there has been a great advancement in the world of healthcare science. Great Britain’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has accepted a research grant by the Francis Crick Institute that will allow scientists to do experiments that edit genes within human embryos.

These experiments will look at editing the DNA of humans in the earliest stages of life: the first week, during which time newly fertilized eggs increase from a single cell to a group of around 250. Such research has already begun using the embryos of other species, but this will be the first such trials with human cells.

Sarah Norcross, director of the Progress Educational Trust, called the grant approval “a victory for level-headed regulation over moral panic.” It is important to note that it is still highly illegal for these genetically modified embryos to be implanted into a woman; they are for research purposes only.

The purpose of this research will yield immediate insight into the early development of human embryos as well as the factors that contribute to miscarriages. But Ronald Green, a professor at Dartmouth College who formerly served on a human embryo research panel for the National Institute of Health, sees another eventual end to this development. “By the end of this century, I am absolutely confident that we will have the tools for someone with the means to use this information to change the child they can have through this process,” he says.

While the United States does not currently allow genetic experimentation on human embryos, it is possible that this landmark development in Britain will lead the United States to reconsider. Either way, these new developments in technology will lead to a fascinating time for science and the discussion of ethics. 

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere

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