Three-people IVF debate process on the move in UK

July 23, 2014 by Nancy Owano weblog

Takes two to make a child, correct? No. maybe. The use of sperm and eggs from three people to create babies moved a step closer in the UK, with Tuesday's events. What kind of egg-sperm distribution are we talking about? The technique uses eggs from two women and one man's sperm. Under what circumstances would this be applicable?

Specifically, the technique aims to address cases of mitochondrial disease, affecting one in 6,500 UK babies born each year. Results may be seen in muscle weakness, blindness, and heart failure. Using the parents' sperm and eggs and an egg from a donor woman, say scientists, could prevent such conditions. The creation of babies using sperm and eggs from three people moved a step closer in the UK on Tuesday. The "three person IVF" technique could be in the works by next year. Plans to legalize use of the technique to prevent mothers passing on serious to their children are to progress, said the Department of Health (DH) in its announcement Tuesday.

A Ministerial statement on the regulations to allow mitochondrial donation said, "The consultation reached a wide audience and received 1857 responses from research bodies, patient bodies, professional organizations, faith organizations, parliamentarians and a large number of individuals."

The statement also said, "The panel was of the view that research has progressed well since its previous two reviews, although it recommended that further experiments should be completed before clinical treatment is offered."

According to the statement,"The Government has decided to proceed with putting regulations before Parliament, subject to giving further consideration to the expert panel's recommendations, refining the draft regulations to take account of changes identified during the consultation, and discussion with the HFEA about an appropriate approval process. The Government will consider the timing of the regulations in the light of these actions."

In an article in The Telegraph, Prof. Frances Flinter, professor of clinical genetics, King's College, London, said that "Families who are affected by serious mitochondrial disorders, and their clinicians, will be relieved that the government is supportive of plans to develop new therapies."

Moving forward, the mitochondrial DNA transfer topic to go before Parliament for debate when Parliament returns. If all goes to plan, then clinics would be able to treat affected families and the world's first three-parent babies could be born in Britain next year.

An article in The Guardian said the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which is the watchdog organization, must work out an approval process for families who would like to have the procedure. Also, an expert panel convened by the regulator awaits results of more scientific experiments on the safety of the technique. "Once the HFEA is satisfied that it can proceed, the regulations will be looked over by the government's joint committee of statutory instruments and the secondary legislation scrutiny committee before parliament will have its say."

Opposition to the idea of using mitochondrial replacement therapy to create embryos with DNA from three people has been voiced, however, by some scientists. Concern is regarding safety and also that science may be going down a slippery slope of genetic modifications and designer babies.

According to the BBC, Dr David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, said 15 years from now in the midst of a designer baby marketplace "people will see this as the moment when the crucial ethical line was crossed." He said "A precautionary approach would demand much more evidence and the government would wait for that rather than rushing legislation through."

So far, said Ian Sample, science editor of The Guardian, "there is no evidence that the procedure is dangerous, but unknown side-effects could emerge and affect all of the generations that carry the donor DNA."

Explore further: Mitochondrial replacement technique safe finds new report

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