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HFEA Horizon Scanning: What’s next for fertility treatment and embryo research?


16 September 2009

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In vitro derived gametes, gene transfer into embryos and alternatives to embryonic stem cells are just three of the rapidly developing areas of science examined in the HFEA’s latest Scientific Horizon Scanning annual report, published today.

The HFEA’s Horizon Scanning process helps the UK’s fertility regulator stay ahead of the science by providing expert insight into developing techniques. It provides the HFEA with an opportunity to consider how these techniques should be regulated in the UK, well in advance of any licence application from a UK clinic or research centre.

Looking at research from around the world, it reveals which procedures are most likely to be taken forward and which, after closer examination, now appear to be less likely.

The report also provides an assessment of whether or not a particular treatment or research technique is expected in the UK in the next few years. If clinics or research centres wish to carry out any of the techniques described in this report they would need to inform the HFEA or apply for a licence and, where necessary, further consultation will be carried out.

Techniques that have recently made the headlines, such as comparative genomic hybridisation (CGH) screening, in vitro maturation of eggs and genetic screening of embryos for cancer, have all been highlighted by the Horizon Scanning process in previous years. The Authority was then able to consider the legal, ethical and regulatory implications of these new techniques well before receiving any licence application from a UK clinic.

Professor Lisa Jardine, Chair of the HFEA, said:

“Fertility treatments and embryo research are moving forward at an extraordinarily fast pace, and reports of breakthrough research regularly making the headlines. As the regulator, we find the Horizon Scanning panel’s advice invaluable when we have to consider whether a proposal for embryo research or treatment meets the robust requirements we have in this country.

“The UK's fertility clinics and research centres are respected around the world for their innovative research and cutting-edge techniques. Not surprisingly, many want to offer their patients as many options as possible, to increase the chance of a successful outcome.

“Horizon Scanning allows us to consider carefully the implications of these very rapid developments well in advance, so that we do not hinder their application unnecessarily.”


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Date Added: 16 September 2009   Date Updated: 16 September 2009
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