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UK 'to allow three-person IVF' treatment

Government backs technique that limits genetic diseases by creating babies using three sets of DNA.

Last Modified: 28 Jun 2013 17:40
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Britain is on the path to becoming the first country to allow a technique to create babies using DNA from three people in a bid to help prevent couples passing on rare genetic diseases.

The technique, which scientists said would not create a 'three parent child', helps prevent women with faulty mitochondria, the energy source in a cell, from passing on to their babies defects that can result in such diseases as muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, heart problems and mental retardation. 

About one in 200 children is born every year in Britain with a mitochondrial disorder.

Scientists would take only the healthy genetic material from the egg or embryo of a mother suffering from the disease.

They can then transfer that into a donor egg or embryo that still has its healthy mitochondria but has had the rest of its key DNA removed. Scientists said that the actual DNA from the donor is minimal, making the three parent child claim inaccurate.

The fertilised embryo is then transferred into the womb of the mother.

Public support

The technique still has to be passed by parliament, but earlier this year the UK's fertility regulator said it found most people supported the new in vitro fertilisation methods after a public consultation that included hearings and written submissions.

British law forbids altering a human egg or an embryo before transferring it into a woman, so such treatments are currently only allowed for research.

Chief Medical Officer at the UK's Department of Health Professor Dame Sally Davies said the impact of mitochondrial disease was devastating for those who carried it.

"Scientists have developed ground-breaking new procedures which could stop these diseases being passed on, bringing hope to many families seeking to prevent their future children inheriting them," she said.

Scientists have developed ground-breaking new procedures which could stop these diseases being passed on, bringing hope to many families seeking to prevent their future children inheriting them.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, Department of Health

"It’s only right that we look to introduce this life-saving treatment as soon as we can."

Critics have previously slammed the methods as unethical and said there are other ways for people with genetic problems to have healthy children, like egg donation or tests to screen out potentially problematic embryos.

In response to the public consultation, the charity Christian Medical Fellowship said the techniques were unethical.

"We do not consider that the hunt for 'therapies' that might prevent a small number of disabled children (with mitochondrial disease) being born justifies the destruction of hundreds if not thousands of embryonic human lives,'' the group said.

Experts said the procedures would likely only be used in about a dozen women every year.

"Many of these (mitochondrial) conditions are so severe that they are lethal in infancy, creating a lasting impact upon the child's family," said Alistair Kent, director of the charity, Genetic Alliance UK, in a statement.

"An added option for families at risk of having a child with such a condition is welcome."

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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