Panel backs potential 'three-parent' IVF babies

2014-06-03 20:56

Injection (Shutterstock)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

London - A British expert scientific panel gave its backing on Tuesday to potential new three-way fertility treatments that would for the first time allow genetically modified embryos to be implanted into women.

The "three-parent" IVF techniques are designed to help families with particular genetic faults who want to avoid passing on incurable diseases to their children. They could be available for patients in two years, the scientists told reporters at a briefing in London.

Known as mitochondrial replacement or transfer, the methods are at the research stage in laboratories in Britain and the US and have never yet been carried out in people anywhere in the world.

They are illegal in Britain for now, but the government said last year it was drawing up draft legislation which if passed into law would allow the treatments to go ahead if they proved safe and effective in clinical trials.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)has also convened an expert committee to decide whether safety concerns raised by three-parent IVF are minimal enough to allow clinical trials in humans to begin.

Faulty DNA

Mitochondrial replacement involves intervening in the fertilisation process to remove faulty mitochondrial DNA, which can cause inherited conditions such as fatal heart problems, liver failure, brain disorders, blindness and muscular dystrophy.

Mitochondria act as tiny energy-generating batteries inside cells, and around one in 6 000 babies around the world are born with serious mitochondrial disorders.

The potential treatment is also known as three-parent in vitro fertilisation (IVF), because the offspring would have genes from a mother, a father and from a female donor.

Publishing its report on Monday, the British expert panel said the evidence it had seen so far "does not suggest that these techniques are unsafe" and does suggest they could be "potentially useful for a specific and defined group of patients".

"In the absence of any effective treatment, mitochondrial replacement therapies... offer great hope to families affected by mitochondrial disorders," said Peter Braude, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at King's College London and a member of the panel.

Although some critics of mitochondrial transfer say it is akin to creating designer babies, replacing faulty mitochondria with healthy ones would not be genetic engineering in the usual understanding of the term.

It would not make a child smarter, sportier, more attractive, or otherwise different from what his or her genome and environment would produce in the normal way.


Braude noted that "the implementation of any new medical treatment is never wholly without risk, and genetic alteration of disease is an important step for society that should not be taken lightly".

A national public consultation showed Britons broadly favour the idea, and the government has signalled it believes the treatments should be allowed to go ahead under strict regulation.

Because Britain is in the vanguard of this research, ethical concerns, political decisions and scientific advances here are closely watched around the world, particularly in the US where scientists are also working on mitochondrial DNA transfer techniques.

One method, being developed at Britain's Newcastle University and known as pronuclear transfer, swaps DNA between two fertilised human eggs.

Another, called maternal spindle transfer, swaps material between the mother's egg and a donor egg before fertilisation.

Read more on:    science  |  genetics

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.