A group of British stem cell researchers has applied for permission to genetically modify human embryos. If the researchers are granted permission, it will be the first time that a national regulatory body has granted this sort of request.
Of course, there’s no guarantee it will be granted. According to Nature World Report, changing an embryo’s genes for “therapeutic purposes” is illegal in most countries since people could use the new technology to design their children.
The major concern is that the altered traits will be heritable and scientists will have crossed a serious ethical boundary. Genetically modifying embryos has already been banned in the U.S.
Chinese scientists have already modified human embryo’s genes, according to Business Insider. Earlier this year, researchers edited genes to prevent a potentially fatal blood disorder in an embryo.
The embryos were not allowed to develop into babies, and the act was not considered successful and was heavily criticized. In other words, people were and still are freaking out!
Lead researcher Junjui Huang of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou attempted to publish in multiple journals but was turned down due to ethical concerns. Sara Reardon and David Cyranoski brought Huang’s paper to the world in an article published Sunday in the news section of Nature.
Despite criticism and concerns, researchers in the UK are standing strong. A stem-cell researcher at the Francis Crick Institute in London, Kathy Niakan, said that she hopes the technique can be used to comprehend which genes are active in the first few days following fertilization. She also hopes to see how those genes affect the placenta’s development, Business Insider reports.
“The knowledge we acquire will be very important for understanding how a healthy human embryo develops, and this will inform our understanding of the causes of miscarriage,” Niakan said in an interview with the Guardian.
Couples who have undergone fertility treatment will donate embryos for the experiments. The embryos will only be used for research, since implanting them in a woman and letting them grow for up to two weeks would be illegal.