UK: Public OK with creating babies from three people

by Maria Cheng

Britain's fertility regulator says it has found broad public support for in vitro fertilization techniques that allow babies to be created with DNA from three people for couples at risk of passing on potentially fatal genetic diseases.

It also found there was no evidence to suggest the techniques were unsafe, but said further research was still necessary.

Critics, however, slammed the decision as a breach of ethics, saying there were already safe methods like egg donation to allow people to have children without mitochondria defects.

Britain's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority began a public discussion of the topic at the government's request last year.

"Although some people have concerns about the safety of these techniques, we found that they trust the scientific experts and the regulator to know when it is appropriate to make them available to patients," Lisa Jardine, chair of the group, said in a statement Wednesday.

British law forbids altering a or an embryo before transferring it into a woman, so such treatments are currently only allowed for research. The regulator will now pass its findings to the government, which would need Parliamentary permission to change the law.

Similar research is going on in the U.S., where the are not being used to produce children.

About one in 200 children every year in Britain is born with a , faults in a cell's energy source that are contained outside the nucleus in a normal female egg. Mistakes in the mitochondria's can result in serious diseases such as muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, and .

When a method to avoid these faults was first successfully used in 2008, headlines announced that scientists had created a child with three parents—two biological mothers and a father. But scientists said that was inaccurate, since there are only trace bits of from one woman.

There are two procedures to avoid passing on faulty mitochondria. The first involves using an egg from one woman with mitochondrial defects and the sperm of the father. Scientists then put that embryo into an emptied egg from a second woman with healthy mitochondria. The DNA from the second woman amounts to less than 1 percent of the embryo's genes.

In the second technique, scientists transfer nuclear DNA out of a day-old embryo with defective mitochondria. The DNA is implanted into another single-cell embryo with normal mitochondria. The nuclear DNA from the donor embryo is discarded, leaving the healthy mitochondria.

Experts say the new techniques would likely only be used in about a dozen U.K. women every year.

David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, called the HFEA recommendations "a travesty of basic medical ethics." His group is a secular organization that opposes many genetics and fertilization experiments.

Others, however, called it progress for those with mitochondrial diseases.

"This technique does involve a step into new scientific territory," said Marita Polschmidt, director of research at the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign. "But it is a calculated, specific step with the sole aim of preventing a potentially fatal condition from being passed down to the next generation."

More information: www.hfea.gov.uk/141.html

0 shares

Related Stories

UK group: New embryo methods should be allowed

date Jun 11, 2012

(AP) — An influential British bioethics group says that couples who face the risk of having a baby with certain genetic diseases should be allowed to use eggs from two women to produce the embryo.

US scientists make embryos with 2 women, 1 man

date Oct 24, 2012

(AP)—Scientists in the U.S. have created embryos with genes from one man and two women, using a provocative technique that someday could be used to prevent babies from inheriting certain rare incurable diseases.

Recommended for you

German woman, 65, gives birth to quadruplets

date 17 hours ago

A 65-year-old teacher from Berlin has given birth to quadruplets after a pregnancy that was widely criticized by medical professionals because of her age, RTL television said Saturday.

More evidence C-sections riskier for moms

date May 20, 2015

(HealthDay)—Women who deliver their first baby by cesarean section are more likely to need blood transfusions and be admitted to intensive care units than women who opt for a vaginal delivery, U.S. health ...

Meds offer slight symptom relief in overactive bladder

date May 20, 2015

(HealthDay)—For women with overactive bladder, medications delivered as a daily dose correlate with small reductions in urge incontinence episodes and voiding, according to a review published online May ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

trapezoid
Mar 20, 2013
They shouldn't be able to create defect-free children because then I would feel inferior.
Human Genetics Alert ... a secular organization that opposes many genetics and fertilization experiments.

Weird

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.