U.K. could allow technique to create babies with DNA from 3 people
Published Friday, June 28, 2013 10:39AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, June 28, 2013 11:41PM EDT
The British government is moving ahead with plans to allow doctors to create babies through in vitro fertilization using genetic material from three people.
England’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies announced the decision in London Friday, saying the advantage of the technique is that it would help prevent mothers from passing on major congenital diseases to their babies.
"Scientists have developed groundbreaking new procedures which could stop these diseases being passed on," she said in a statement. "It's only right that we look to introduce this life-saving treatment as soon as we can."
The procedure is called mitochondrial transfer and is meant to help women who have faulty mitochondria, which is the energy source in a cell. Faulty mitochondria can lead to mitochondrial disorders that often shorten the lives of children, such as muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, and other rare syndromes that cause heart or brain problems.
One in 6,500 babies in the U.K. is born with a mitochondrial disorder.
For the mitochondrial transfer, scientists take the healthy genetic material from the eggs of a woman with faulty mitochondria, and transfer it into a donor egg that has healthy mitochondria but that has had all the rest of its key DNA removed.
The technique was developed by researchers at Newcastle University and has been shown to work in animals. But the procedure has never been tested in humans because British law currently forbids altering a human egg or an embryo before transferring it into a uterus.
Public consultations with the country’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority found, though, that the British public was generally supportive of the technology.
The government says it plans to write up draft guidelines later this year before debating a final version in parliament next year. If MPs eventually approve the regulations, Britain would be the only country to endorse the technique.
Alison Murdoch, a professor of reproductive medicine at Newcastle University who was part of the team that developed the technique, said she welcomed plans to move ahead with regulations.
“This is great news for U.K. science and gives hope to women who just want a healthy baby. The U.K. government has made a moral decision,” she said in a statement.
But some group oppose the technique, saying it inherently means the destruction of eggs or embryos. They say there are other ways for people with genetic problems to have healthy children, such as through egg donation.
Others worry that modifying the DNA of embryos will raise the risk of introducing even more genetic problems.
Though the procedure has been dubbed in the British media as creating a “three-parent baby,” scientists say that’s inaccurate because the amount of mitochondrial DNA from the donor egg is insignificant -- amounting to less than one per cent of the embryo’s total DNA.
If Britain begins offering the technique, it would likely be used in about a dozen women in the U.K. every year.
With reports from The Associated Press