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Genetic modification is to be used to treat patients for the first time in Europe this year.

A firm hopes to use the controversial technique to cure a devastating inherited blood disorder.

The illness, â-thalassemia, leads to organ failure, weakened bones and eventually death if untreated.

It is caused by a genetic fault which prevents the body from producing haemoglobin, a protein in the blood which transports oxygen.

Scientists at Swiss company Crispr Therapeutics are hoping to cure the disorder by permanently altering the faulty gene.

Their trial, which is due to start at some point in 2018, will be the first time the technique has been tested in Europe.

Genetic modification will be used in Europe for the first time in an attempt to cure â-thalassemia, a devastating inherited blood disorder (file photo)





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British experts have hailed it as ‘very promising’ and insist it will be both safe and highly effective. But critics worry that these sorts of interventions pave the way for designer babies.

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge (pictured), group leader at the Francis Crick Institute in central London, said: ‘We will look back and think that this is the real beginning of gene therapy’

Scientists will initially remove some of the patients’ stem cells, the basic cells found in bone marrow as well as some other areas of body.

These cells will then be injected with a protein which will aim to cut out the faulty gene in their DNA.

The stem cells will be inserted back into the body in the hope that they will multiply and enable the body to produce sufficient haemoglobin.

The scientists have not yet disclosed where the trial will take place.

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, group leader at the Francis Crick Institute in central London, said: ‘We will look back and think that this is the real beginning of gene therapy.’

China has already undertaken similar studies although their regulation is less strict than in Europe.

US researchers are recruiting for a trial which will use the technique to try to treat blood and skin cancers. 

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