British Scientists to Genetically Modify Human Embryos
February 11, 2016
David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics)
Excerpted from “UK scientists given go-ahead to genetically modify human embryos,” CNN. February 1, 2016 — British scientists have been given the green light to genetically modify human embryos, for the first time in the nation's history. The landmark decision means scientists will now be allowed to alter the DNA of embryos, for research purposes only.
It remains illegal for these genetically altered embryos to be implanted in a woman. It is hoped the experiments will improve our understanding of the earliest stages of embryo development. The research, which was approved by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, will use excess embryos donated by couples who have had in vitro fertilization treatment.
The research, which will be led by Dr. Kathy Niakan, will take place at the Francis Crick Institute in London and has been hailed as a "triumph for common sense" by leading figures of the British science community. "This decision ... is a victory for level-headed regulation over moral panic," added Sarah Norcross, director of the Progress Educational Trust.
However, the research has also raised concerns that it could pave the way for "designer babies" -- going beyond health improvements and modifying everything from a child's eye color to intelligence.
It is not the first time a country has genetically modified human embryos. In April of last year, scientists in China became the first in the world to edit a gene that causes a blood disorder. That same month, the U.S. National Institutes of Health released a statement saying it would not fund gene editing technologies in human embryos.
CMDA CEO David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics): “The Crick Institute plans to use ‘spare’ embryos and CRISPR-Cas9 technology to identify and ultimately repair gene(s) defects that prevent implantation. They promise to destroy all the embryos by the 14 day blastocyst stage and to not implant them. They may also create human embryos for destructive research: ‘...it may be necessary to create IVF embryos specifically for the research.’ They maintain that there isn't a slippery slope to genetically modified babies, which begs the question of why do the research if you aren’t going to use it for treatment?
“If you can use this study protocol for genetic mutations preventing implantation, which aren’t a huge problem, don't diabetes and a host of much more common diseases deserve this same type of research? Plus you get a bonus. You solve the problem of all those frozen human beings in IVF labs going to waste!
“We cross another red line, while much of the world yawns! People don’t want to eat genetically modified crops, but they don’t have a problem genetically modifying human beings.”