This is a questionable move, which would make the united kingdom the only country in the global world apart from China to carry out such research. It is very important that we have an informed debate about any of it absolutely, consulting the public in a meaningful way, before scientists and policymakers set its parameters. This includes its use in human being embryo adjustment but look beyond that to other applications as well.
The question now in the minds of many is whether the UK needs new rules. Before ten years, the range of the HFEA rules has been growing, not narrowing. For instance, in 2006 researchers from King’s College London and Newcastle University put on the HFEA to focus on hybrids.
Also known as cytoplasmic cross embryos, hybrids are embryos produced from creating an egg in the laboratory using the nucleus of the human cell produced from an individual and the mitochondria from a rabbit or cow. The target was to produce patient-specific human being cell lines to model human diseases in-vitro. The HFEA approved this work in 2008 by amending the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act of 1990 to identify the definition of “human admixed embryos”.
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The applications of cybrids were soon superseded by the intro of other techniques. Among these was induced pluripotent stem cells – cells that have the ability to form nearly all the cells and cells in the torso – which appeared to avoid many of the ethical conundrums raised by crossing different varieties. In 2015, the HFEA range was further expanded to allow mitochondrial DNA alternative techniques, designed to use genetic materials from three people to create an embryo free from mitochondrial disease.
The scope of the HFEA regulation may be expanded again to include applications of CRISPR/Cas9 to embryo research. If this happens, it shall provide for licenses for very specific applications of the technology. This is unlikely to be a “blanket licence” or even to go beyond the 14-day limit of research in-vitro.
Until now, the argument around the utilization of CRISPR/Cas9 has been framed in two opposing ways. On the one hands the technology is seen as an appealing tool for improving medical knowledge and treatment. Counter-balancing this is actually the view it poses a serious risk to the future because of its eugenic potential to generate “designer babies”.