UK scientists edit human embryos

08 October 2017
By Kat Arney.

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Last month scientists at the Francis Crick Institute in London announced that they had successfully used the CRISPR gene editing technique to disable a gene in human embryos - the first time the technique has been used in the UK.

The gene in question makes a protein called Oct-4, which plays a vital role in making sure that stem cells in the early embryo remain as stem cells, and don’t differentiate into more specialised cells too soon.

The team, led by Kathy Niakan, used around 60 donated embryos left over from IVF, which would otherwise have been thrown away, and only grew the modified embryos in the lab for around a week before destroying them. Publishing their findings in the journal Nature, they discovered that modified embryos lacking Oct-4 failed to grow into blastocysts - the football-like stage at which they would normally implant in the womb - proving the gene’s vital role in early development.

More than 80 per cent of human embryos never result in a live birth, so using CRISPR to understand more about the role of particular genes in early development should help to shed light on the misery of miscarriages and infertility, and improve the effectiveness of IVF.

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