British scientists declared in a statement for Science Media Centre that genetic mutation techniques will allow them to gain a better understanding of how human embryos develop, what exactly makes them fail or succeed after in vitro fertilization, and what do they need to do in order to develop more useful stem cells.
More precisely, the team of scientists wants to modify certain genes in the trophectoderm (outer cells) of the human embryo. Other scientists disagreed with them, warning that genetic modifications in humans are not safe and could have devastating results in the long run. How are we capable of foreseeing how these mutations could affect future generations?
The statement spawned much agitation in the scientific field, while governments and experts struggled whether to draw the line or not in human gene editing. Kathy Niakan, scientist at the Francis Crick Institute, London, declared that gene editing of human embryos will not involve the manipulation of the genes but rather laboratory experiments that could lead to scientific discoveries.
After clearing the air, she said that through gene editing we could find ways of preventing miscarriage, or to improve implantations. It is not like scientists have any intentions to create genetically modified babies. The researchers want to see whether they could eradicate disease by altering the affected gene at a very early point in the embryo’s development.
Kathy Niakan’s request will have to undergo further reviews. Chances are that she will obtain the license to engage in human embryo gene editing as long as they are destroyed within two weeks. Niakan informs that all the embryos will be donated by consent for in vitro fertilization treatment.
While genome editing is not an entirely new trend, the introduction of Easy Genome Engineering (known as the CRISPR-Cas9) will allow for the work to be done in a much faster and precise way than ever before. The new technique is allowed for research purposes only under srict regulations, and is currently illegal as a form of treatment.
Edward Lanphier, chief executive at the Sangamo Biosciences, Richmond, California, wrote a mail to Shots that reads:
“We would again call for a pause in all human germline modification research worldwide until these very important issues can be fully discussed and consensus guidelines can be generated by the global scientific community.”
Lanphier proposed an immediate suspension of embryo gene editing research, but at the same time he thinks it is reassuring to know that this kind of research is being carried out under strict regulatory schemes that would ensure ethical scientific standards.
Kathy Niakam firmly believes that UK scientists more than prepared to bring breakthrough contribution to the genetic modification field.
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