How we regulate (treatment and research)

Human embryo research

A fertility clinician using a microscopeThe HFEA can grant research licences for up to three years for individual research projects. All licence applications, renewals are evaluated by an HFEA Research Licence Committee.

The research licensing process

The process for applying for a research licence consists of five steps:

1. Contacting the HFEA

The procedure for contacting the HFEA depends on whether you are applying for a new licence or renewing an existing one.

  • New licences: Most researchers contact the HFEA to discuss their proposed research before they submit their application for a licence. The research centre also must also obtain approval from their local research Ethics Committee.
  • Existing licence holders: Existing licence holders liaise directly with the HFEA Regulation Department on renewals and evaluations.

2. Applying for a licence (initial/renewal)

The centre sends its completed application to the HFEA ComplianceDepartment, together with an administration fee, which varies depending on the nature of the research.

The HFEA aims to process 90% of research licence applications within three months of receipt of a properly completed application (which includes the views of the peer reviewers).

3. Undergoing peer reviews

The HFEA Compliance Department initiates peer reviews to determine whether the application:

  • comes within the statutory requirements of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, as amended
  • requires human embryos to fulfil its aims and objectives
  • requires the numbers and types of embryos described in the application

4. Being inspected

If the peer reviews are satisfactory, the HFEA initiates visits to proposed research sites. These visits are conducted by HFEA Compliance staff. The primary focus of these visits is to:

  • review proposed project protocols
  • inspect research laboratories
  • meet research teams.

Following these visits, the inspectors produce an inspection report.

5. Presentation to the Research Licence Committee

The inspectors’ report, together with the application and the peer reviews are presented to the HFEA’s Research Licence Committee, who decide whether to grant a research licence.


Further information:

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Page last updated: 09 July 2012

Policy review: Hybrids and Chimeras

Dictionary entry of the word policyThe creation human/animal embryos for research comes with many ethical and social implications.

The HFEA held a public consultation on the matter. Find out the results.

...more about Hybrids and Chimeras

Genetic testing

Photo of an embryo

Learn about pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).

Discover how this technique could help to avoid passing on inherited conditions to any potential child.

...more about genetic testing