Children with genes from three parents to be born within two years thanks to new IVF technique


Children with genes from three parents to be born within two years thanks to new IVF technique


Embryos could soon have genes from three parents in order to eradicate potential diseases

Embryos could soon have genes from three parents in order to eradicate potential diseases

Children with genetic material from three parents could be born in just two years.

British scientists want to start testing a new IVF technique to try to eradicate incurable genetic diseases such as muscular dystrophy.

The concept took a leap forward yesterday after the Government announced a public consultation on whether the law should be changed to allow the technique.

It involves taking healthy DNA from a mother’s egg – either before or after fertilisation – and transferring it into an egg donated by another woman.

This egg is then implanted into the mother to avoid passing on faults in her mitochondria, the tiny ‘batteries’ which power cells.

In theory the child would then have genetic material from its mother, father and the donor. However, it would not inherit the donor’s characteristics.

The procedure has caused an ethical storm, with critics warning it is creating ‘hybrid’ children and could have unknown risks for future generations.

Science Minister David Willetts said that the researchers had made an ‘important and potentially life-saving discovery’ but it was important to get the regulation right.

Mitochondria are sausage-shaped
powerhouses which float around inside cells converting food into energy
the body can use. Each contains a tiny strand of DNA – around 37 of the
23,000 human genes – which is passed on by the mother.

But
mutations of this DNA – which is only involved in generating energy –
can cause around 50 serious and untreatable genetic diseases.

These affect around one in 5,000
children, causing symptoms such as blindness, deafness, heart and kidney
problems and early-onset dementia. Many sufferers die before reaching
adulthood.

How the IVF treatment

If the mother’s damaged mitochondria could be cut out of the fertilisation process, it is hoped genetic diseases could be prevented, saving 100 lives a year.

Professor Doug Turnbull, of Newcastle University, who pioneered the technique, said he believed the first patients would begin treatment in two to three years.

'This has the possibility of stopping the disease and stopping it in the next generations as well'

He added: ‘Every year we see hundreds of patients whose lives are seriously affected by mitochondrial diseases.We want to make a major difference to their lives.

‘This has the possibility of stopping disease and stopping it in the next generations as well.’

Yesterday the Wellcome Trust, a private funding body, announced a 4.4million grant to the university for a mitochondria study centre.

Research is being done with donor eggs provided by women undergoing IVF. They can be given DNA transfers but the embryo is only allowed to develop for five or six days.

The public consultation on changing the law will begin this year and will be voted on by MPs.

Last April the Government’s fertility watchdog, the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority, produced a report on the technique, which found it was safe but recommended more tests.

DNA transfer has been done internationally on many different animals including primates, but never humans.

Josephine Quintavalle, of the pro-life campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: ‘Mitochondrial disease is obviously serious and worrying but it does not merit experimenting on humans and unleashing who-knows-what on the next generation.

‘It’s like we’ve written off the laws of nature.’

But Robert Meadowcroft, of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, which has pumped 1.2million into researching mitochondrial disease, said: ‘This could end the heartbreak of parents passing on these diseases to their children.

‘It has been shown to work in the lab so now we must move it into clinical trials without delay.’