Plans for three-parent IVF babies a step closer after fertility watchdog gives the go-ahead
Technique uses two eggs to stop transfer of genetic diseases to the childBut critics have labelled it 'Frankenscience', with unknown side effects Fertility watchdog today advised the Government on how to move forward
Fiona Macrae and Nick Mcdermott
12:00 GMT, 20 March 2013
01:19 GMT, 21 March 2013
Britain could become the first country to sanction the creation of babies with three parents.
The Government has been urged to change the law so women with devastating hereditary diseases have the chance to have healthy children, within three years.
The technique would involve defective DNA in the mother's egg being replaced with material from a donor egg. A child would effectively have two mothers and a father.
Scientists at Newcastle University
have developed techniques to replace faulty genes which can lead to
around 50 genetic diseases, including strokes, kidney and liver disease,
dementia, blindness and premature death.
Such disorders affect one in 6,500
babies and are caused by defects in the DNA of mitochondria – the tiny,
sausage-shaped powerhouses inside cells that turn food into energy.
However, successful 'mitochondrial
replacement' would eliminate the disease from future generations, and
allow a couple to have children who share their nuclear DNA, albeit with
mitochondrial DNA from the donor.
A consultation requested by the
Government and run by the fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation
and Embryology Authority, found there was 'general support' from the
public for allowing IVF clinics to use the technique.
Scientists told the HFEA that there
was nothing to suggest the technique was unsafe, although until a child
is born no one can be certain.
Some argue that such genetic
engineering crosses a crucial ethical line. Ultimately, it can lead to
the creation of 'perfect' babies made to order, including hair and eye
The researchers behind the technique say critics of it tend to be anti-IVF in general
Although no country yet sanctions the technique, some babies using it have been born in the US.
The HFEA document will be passed to the Government which will decide whether to try to amend the law.
Professor Lisa Jardine, HFEA chairman,
said: 'We've found there is broad support for mitochondria replacement,
to give families the chance of having a healthy child.'
Prof Doug Turnbull, a Newcastle
University researcher, said: 'We believe it is crucial the Government
moves to draft the regulations so that patients in the UK will have
access to this treatment.'
However, a spokesman for the campaign
group, Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: 'This is a highly
experimental and potentially dangerous approach using genetic material
from multiple parental sources.'
Dr David King, of pressure group Human
Genetics Alert, said mitochondrial replacement would 'lead inexorably
to the disaster of genetically engineered babies and consumer eugenics'.
A Department of Health spokesman said
mitochondrial disease can have a 'devastating impact' and it would
carefully consider the advice.