April 21, 2024

Fertility watchdog wants to overhaul UK laws on embryos

The UK’s fertility regulator is seeking to liberalise techniques for manipulating human embryos in assisted reproduction and research. The Guardian describes its plans as “the biggest overhaul of fertility laws in 30 years”. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) also wants to “future proof” legislation so that scientists will not be held back by dated regulations.  

The HFEA plans to launch a consultation in September before making recommendations on amendments to 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. Although the suggestions are radical, they hope that they will be pushed through before the end of the year.  

The Guardian highlighted “four radical new fertility treatments” which could get a green light:

  • Lab-grown eggs and sperm. This is still not possible in human beings, but it has been achieved in mice. An American company, Conception, is already working on creating egg cells from stem cells to help infertile women conceive. Its founder, Matt Krisiloff, is gay and believes that a successful technology would enable gay couples to have their own children. “This could become one of the most important technologies ever created,” says the company website.
  • Human genome editing. Currently this is not permitted and public opinion opposes it. However, if efficacy and safety issues can be resolved, legislation should be amended to accommodate changes in the germline.
  • Three-person baby IVF. British legislation was amended in 2015 to permit mitochondrial donation – but two techniques were permitted. The HFEA wants to liberalise this.  
  • Synthetic embryos. These are embryo-like structures which are produced from stem cells. Legislation should permit these.

The pace of development in reproductive biology is quickening and UK scientists and the HFEA do not want to be left behind. “The Act risks being overtaken by both developments in the practice of regulation and developments in scientific research,” says the HFEA.

Part 1 and Part 2 of the HFEA’s discussion paper is available on its website.