Genetically-modified human embryos could be made in a British lab within months.
The fertility regulator will meet tomorrow to decide whether scientists should be allowed to manipulate the genes of embryos donated by IVF patients.
If the researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London get the go-ahead they will be the first in Britain to alter the DNA of human embryos and only the second in the world.
However, the development, which is made possible by a new, highly precise way of manipulating genes, will raise concerns that Britain is on a slippery slope towards designer babies.
Used differently, the Crispr DNA editing technique could lead to the creation of ‘perfect’ children made to order by hair or eye color.
Researcher Kathy Niakan has asked the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority for permission to study how an embryo’s genes affect whether it will survive the first week of life – a key time in the development of any future baby.
Currently, fewer than one in two eggs live for a week after fertilisation – and just one in eight lead to a pregnancy that lasts at least three months.
Learning more about this ‘critical’ first week of human life could allow more women to have babies by sparing them trauma of miscarriages.
It should also improve IVF success rates, cutting the financial and emotional costs of repeated treatments.
New contraceptives could also be in the pipeline.
Dr Niakan said: “The reason this is so important is that repeated miscarriages are unfortunately extremely common but they are not very well understood. One of the main aims is to understand these very early stages of human development.”
“We believe this research could lead to improvements in fertility treatment, provide a really fundamental insight into some of the causes of miscarriage and a much deeper understanding of the earliest stages of human life.”
By stopping genes from working one by one, she hopes to find out which are key.
If the project is approved by the HFEA and a separate ethics committee, work could start in March and the first GM embryos made by the summer.
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