Genetic Modification of Human Embryos of 'Tremendous Value,' Say Scientists

Embryo research
Human genetic material is stored at a laboratory in Munich May 23, 2011. Michael Dalder/Reuters

An international group of scientists have said research involving the genetically modified (GM) human embryos should be allowed, saying it is of "tremendous value."

The Hinxton Group, which describes itself as an international consortium on stem cells and bioethics, also said in a statement released on Wednesday that the engineering of GM babies—a concept commonly called designer babies—could be "morally acceptable" in the future, although it said it was not in favor of the procedure at present.

Currently, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) refuses to provide funding for any research involving the genetic modification of human embryos, The Guardian reports. In the U.K., the use of embryos which have been genetically altered where these edits could be passed on to offspring is illegal.

The Hinxton Group claimed that new gene-editing technology, which could be used to correct genetic defects or introduce beneficial changes, "provides vast scope for applications in human disease and health" and that genome editing has "tremendous value" for scientific research.

Modern gene-editing tools such as CRISPR/Cas9—a technique which can reportedly edit the genomic sequence in a highly targeted way—are "not only very precise, but also easy, inexpensive, and, critically, very efficient," the group said.

Earlier this year, Chinese scientists reportedly edited the genomes of human embryos in what was described as "a world first" by the journal Nature.

The BBC reported that GM technologies could potentially be used to prevent children being born with genetic defects in the future, such as cystic fibrosis or genes which increase the risk of cancer. However, concerns have been raised about GM embryos, with Francis Collins, the NIH Director, saying that modifying the DNA of embryos "has been viewed almost universally as a line that should not be crossed."