Manipulating the genome of human embryo: a red boundary line not to be crossed!

On Friday September 18, 2015, The Guardian newspaper reported that Dr. Kathy Niakan, stem cell researcher at London’s Francis Crick Institute has filed a request with the “Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority” (HFEA), the U.K. governmental regulatory organization for fertility techniques, seeking a license to perform genome editing on human embryos.

Thanks to the CrispR/Cas9 technique, it is today possible to replace, snip out, or insert a gene to the DNA of a cell. It is a rather simple genetic modification, relatively affordable, and manageable on all cells, whether vegetable, animal or human.

The British researcher has requested authorization to use human embryos from In Vitro Fecundations (IVF) in order to modify their DNA, to explore the genes involved in the first stages of embryonic development, especially those related to placenta cell differentiation. After genetic modification, these embryos would not be intended to be implanted to achieve a pregnancy, and would be destroyed. If her request is accepted, the first genetically modified embryos could rapidly be created in her laboratory, even if the researcher “doesn’t know how long it will take to carry out the project and if she will obtain sufficient human embryos.”

Last April, American scientists pushed for a global moratorium. Just afterward, a Chinese team using the CrispR/Cas9 technique published a very controversial study.

For Tugdual Derville, Alliance VITA’s general delegate, « We are playing with fire. This new step should alert us. Even if these techniques are not yet perfectly operational, they are advancing at a vertiginous pace and suggest the possibility of creating genetically- modified children in the future, with a real eugenic and scientific abuse. Modifying the genome of an embryo would also imply his descendants, and in the long run, a large part of Humanity. Manipulating the genome of human embryos is a red boundary line not to be crossed!”

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