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UK Approves Fertility Research Project Using CRISPR in Human Embryos

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has granted a license to scientists at the Francis Crick Institute to use CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing in human embryos as part of research on embryo development.

Led by group leader Kathy Niakan, the research will seek to identify genes important to the first seven days of embryo development, as the embryo grows from a single cell into a cluster of more than 200 cells.

In September 2015, Niakan and her colleagues applied to the HFEA for a license to conduct the research project. The HFEA is the UK's regulatory body for fertility clinics and fertility research involving human embryos. UK-based research projects using human embryos require a license awarded by the HFEA's License Committee.

"The embryos will come from patients who have given their informed consent to the donation of embryos which are surplus to their [in vitro fertilization] treatment," the Crick Institute said in a statement.

According to HFEA regulations, embryos can be used only in research and not in IVF treatment. According to a prior HFEA license awarded to a group led by Niakan for a different research project, the researchers have established a "documented procedure for ensuring that embryos do not develop beyond 14 days post-fertilization."

The Crick Institute added that the genome-editing research project still "needs to gain ethical approval," and, if approved, will begin "within the next few months."