Three-parent babies on the way, say IVF experts

Leading scientists have appealed to Andrew Lansley to set a timetable for the introduction of a controversial technique known as "three-parent IVF" after a scientific review found no evidence it was unsafe.

Click for HERE graphic (205k.jpg)

The procedure involves swapping genetic material before the IVF embryo is implanted in the womb to prevent the transmission of some of the most severe inherited disorders. But it would lead to permanent changes in the genetic make-up of children that would be passed on to subsequent generations and breaks new ground in IVF research.

Mitochondrial disease – mutations in small structures called mitochondria which surround the cell nucleus – is carried by thousands of women and is passed down the maternal line, leading to the birth of about 100 severely disabled children every year. Some women with the disorder have had up to six children who have died because of the severity of their disabilities.

In an open letter to the health secretary signed by the heads of the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and four other bodies, the scientists said regulations governing use of the gene-switching technique should be drawn up now so it can be introduced without delay once sufficient evidence of its safety and efficacy has been amassed.

"Given the importance of such research for couples wishing to have children free of mitochondrial disease, and the speed at which research in the field is developing, researchers and patients now need assurance that such techniques will move into the clinic. We consider it essential that UK patients should benefit from treatments resulting from research conducted here," the scientists led by Professor Sir John Bell, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, say.

Mr Lansley ordered a review of the science of the technique, carried out by a panel appointed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which concluded that though there was nothing to suggest it was unsafe, further research was necessary.

The mitochondria are the power packs of the cell, contained in the cytoplasm that surrounds the nucleus, which provide it with energy. They carry very small amounts of genetic material, mutations in which lead to potentially fatal problems such as organ failure and symptoms including blindness.

Women may be carriers of the inherited disorder without being affected themselves and some, or all, of their children may be affected. To avoid it, the nucleus of the woman's egg or embryo, containing more than 99 per cent of her genes, is removed, leaving the affected mitochondria in the cytoplasm surrounding it behind, and placed in a donated egg or embryo with unaffected mitochondria, whose own nucleus has been removed.

The resulting child has more than 99 per cent of the genes belonging to its father and mother and less than 1 per cent from the donor.

The scientific review of the technique, co-chaired by Robin Lovell-Badge of the Medical Research Council, says further work is needed into the two methods of switching the nucleus – the maternal spindle transfer, conducted before fertilisation, and the pronuclear transfer, conducted after fertilisation – to check offspring born to rhesus monkeys are unaffected and that human eggs and embryos similarly treated grow normally in the laboratory.

Dr Lovell-Badge said: "Some people seem to be taking our report as negative and hesitant. It is not meant to be at all. We just need a little bit more information. In my view it won't take very long – a year and a few months. We don't know which of the two techniques is best."

Ethical and legal reviews still had to be conducted – one method involved the destruction of fertilised embryos – alongside the preparation of new regulations but these should happen in parallel with the extra scientific research so measures were in place to treat the first patients as soon as the technique was approved, he said.

Case study: 'This would have changed my life'

Ruth Safak's 20-year-old son, Deniz, is confined to a wheelchair, has regular seizures and suffers severe migraines. Ruth, 54, is his sole carer.

"I think the research into three-parent IVF to prevent mitochondrial disorders is fantastic and nothing should stand in its way.

"The only people who should have the right to criticise it are those who suffer from the disease.

"I didn't know until Deniz was eight that he was affected by it and I was a carrier. He can't do anything for himself, he needs round-the-clock care and suffers terribly. If I could have avoided this, what a marvellous life we would have had."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

    £100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

    Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

    £20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

    Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

    Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee