21 September 2015
ByAppeared in BioNews 820
The research is intended to explore the reasons why some women experience multiple miscarriages.
'By applying more precise and efficient methods in our research we hope to require fewer embryos and be more successful than the other methods currently used,' commented group leader Dr Kathy Niakan.
The research would use embryos donated from people undergoing IVF. In accordance with UK law, the researchers will only be able to use the embryos for research purposes and they cannot be studied beyond two weeks.
Dr Niakan, explained to the Guardian that the team will use CRISPR/Cas9 to switch on and off genes in early developing embryos and then examine what effect this has on the cells that go on to form the placenta.
'It is essential to study the function of these human genes in the context of the embryo in order to fully understand their roles,' she said.
The application comes shortly after the Wellcome Trust and other science bodies, released a joint statement urging that genome editing be allowed in the UK (see BioNews 818). This was also the opinion of the influential Hinxton group after a recent meeting to discuss the issue (see BioNews 819).
However, some oppose the use of the technique on the human germline for safety and ethical reasons. The creators of the CRISPR/Cas9 technique have previously called for a worldwide moratorium on its use in embryos and germ cells (see BioNews 795), while the US National Institutes of Health, Francis S Collins said it was a 'line that should not be crossed' (see BioNews 800).
In a statement, the HFEA confirmed that it was considering the application.
'Genome editing of embryos for use in treatment is illegal. It has been permissible in research since 2009, as long as the research project meets the criteria in the legislation and it is done under an HFEA licence,' it read.
'We have recently received an application to use CRISPR/Cas9 in one of our licensed research projects, and it will be considered in due course.'
The Progress Educational Trust's public conference 'From Three-Person IVF to Genome Editing: The Science and Ethics of Engineering the Embryo' is taking place in central London on Wednesday 9 December 2015. Find out more here.