UK Progression Towards Three-Person IVF
In a controversial step forward, a technique to create babies from the sperm and eggs of three people – which could lead to the prevention of some of the major childhood diseases – has progressed in the UK.
According to the Department of Health, the three-person IVF (invitro fertilisation), developed by a team at Newcastle University, has been broadly supported by the public with 2,000-odd responses received during public consultations.
Although there are some concerns that the method could lead to so-called “designers babies”, the procedure is being limited to families with a history of mitochondrial disease.
Mitochondria are found in every cell in the body except for red blood cells. They are tiny parts of the cells that convert energy it to use. They are often described as “cellular power stations”, but also play a role in the cell’s cycle, growth, death, signalling, that kind of thing.
When a person has a mitochondrial disease, the mitochondria in the cells don’t work properly. They don’t produce the energy for the cells to function well, and sometimes they just don’t work at all. And as mitochondria are passed down from mother to child, the offspring can also inherit the mitochondrial disease.
But if an extra egg, a donor egg, is used in the conception process, the child could develop healthy mitochondria, preventing such conditions. Mitochondria also carry their own DNA, so as well as the child having DNA from both of its parents, a small part of its DNA – around 1% – will come from the donor.
Not every family will be approved for three-person IVF, but each application will be carefully considered by regulatory body Human Fertilisation Embryology Authority (HFEA). Children born from the use of the procedure also won’t be entitled to know who their egg donor is though information that wouldn’t reveal her identity can be given after the child has passed the age of 16.
At the moment, there are no concerns that the procedure is unsafe, but for it to become legal, it needs to go before Parliament, which will be happening later this year. After that, the HFEA will be able to license clinics to treat families affected by mitochondrial disease.
Once given the go ahead, the world’s first three-parent babies could be born in the UK as soon as next year.
“We are pleased that the government is still supportive of this important technique to prevent the transmission of serious mitochondrial disease,” said lead researcher of the three-person IVF plan, Professor Doug Turnbull. “We have patients waiting who could greatly benefit from this new IVF technique.”