In a historic move, the British government has approved a new fertility treatment that will allow babies to be ‘created’ using the genetics of three parents.
Why Three Parents?
The controversial development has been endorsed to allow parents to avoid passing on their own mitochondrial mutations and associated diseases such as Mitochondrial myopathy, Diabetes mellitus and deafness (DAD), Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) and several others.
Three Biological Parents
As soon as late 2017, babies in the U.K could be born to three biological parents following the approval from the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority.
This new fertility treatment is anticipated to assist women with rare genetic defects to become mothers.
Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy
Clinics around the U.K can now apply for licenses to perform mitochondrial replacement therapy. The process involves removing the nucleus with defective mitochondria from a fertilized embryo or egg, and implanting it into a healthy donor egg.
Although mitochondria only contain a very small amount of genetic material, any defections have serious implications. This is because the mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells.
Children born with these rare mitochondrial diseases are unable to generate enough energy and this can be fatal. The mutated genes are stored within the egg and passed down by the mother.
In this new procedure, the embryos will contain DNA from two women and one man. However, the donor’s DNA will only be found in the mitochondria and will not influence traits such as a person’s personality or looks.
Three-parent babies have been around for several decades. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, babies were born to three parents using another technique called cytoplasmic transfer. However, this method caused birth defects and was subsequently stopped in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration.
Although the new procedure is considered safe, American Congress is not interested in approving of genetically modified embryos.
Despite the American stance, a baby boy was born in the United States earlier this year following this fertility technique. The procedure was carried out in Mexico, where there are no laws preventing genetically modified embryos.
By granting formal approval for the technique to be performed in the U.K, authorities are confident that they will be able to closely regulate the procedures. This will enable children born using mitochondrial replacement techniques to be carefully monitored and developmental milestones tracked.
Clinics Already Seeking Licenses in the U.K.
Within 24 hours of the U.K. announcement, one clinic is already applying for a license. The team at the Newcastle Fertility Centre is aiming to treat at least 25 patients annually using this technique.
No doubt the rest of the world will watch the developments with great interest.