Breakthrough: Scientists produce early-stage embryos by transferring genes between unfertilised human eggs, in bid to eliminate inherited mitochondrial diseases

 

Scientists have for the first time transferred genes between unfertilised human eggs to produce early-stage embryos in an attempt to prove that it will be safe to go ahead with a radical new technique to rid families of certain inherited diseases.

The researchers transferred the nucleus of an unfertilised egg cell into a human donor egg that had its own nucleus removed to show that it is possible to use this approach for eliminating mitochondrial diseases in all subsequent generations of an affected family.

Mitochondrial diseases are inherited solely through the mother and affect up to one in 200 babies, but only about one in 6,000 suffer serious metabolic problems such as muscular weakness, blindness, fatal heart or liver failure, learning disabilities and diabetes.

Embryos resulting from the process should carry only the healthy mitochondria – the tiny “power packs” of the cells – of the donor’s egg rather than the defective mitochondria of the affected mother.

IVF babies born by this approach will therefore be free of the mitochondrial mutations carried by their biological mothers and so will not pass on the mutations to their own children and grandchildren.

The technique is controversial because for the first time it would result in “germline” gene therapy, where the genetic material of subsequent generations is deliberately altered. It would also result in children who technically have three genetic parents, a father and two mothers.

Scientists, however, have criticised the notion of the “three parent child” on the grounds that there are 23,000 genes in the DNA of the nucleus but only 13 genes in the DNA of the mitochondria – so the genetic contribution of the second “mother” would be minimal, they argue.

The latest study, published in the journal Nature, was carried out by a team led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon, who three years ago demonstrated the same technique on laboratory monkeys that went on to give birth to healthy offspring.

“Using this process, we have shown that mutated DNA from the mitochondria can be replaced with healthy copies in human cells….this research shows that this gene therapy method may well be a viable alternative to preventing  devastating diseases passed from mother to infant,” Dr Mitalipov said.

“I would say that it’s safe enough at this stage to proceed to clinical trials. The idea is to remove mitochondrial defects so that subsequent generations don’t have them. The whole idea of germline gene therapy is that you don’t just treat the one patient,” said Dr Mitalipov, who has applied for a patent on his technique.

The UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is currently conducting a public consultation on the use of mitochondria replacement. Its expert group has asked for further studies to be carried out to decide whether it is safe to lift the current ban on germline gene therapy for mitochondrial diseases.

A team from Newcastle University showed in 2010 that it is possible to use a similar approach for transferring mitochondria but they did it at the slightly later stage when the eggs were fertilised, rather than between unfertilised eggs.

Dr Mitalipov said that further work needs to be done to work out which approach will be the most effective. One problem with his technique is that about half of the eggs resulting from mitochondria transfer failed to fertilise, he said.

Professor Peter Braude of King’s College London, a member of the HFEA’s expert committee, said that more research is needed before this approach could be used in clinical trials on women affected by mitochondrial disorders.

“It is exactly the sort of science that the HFEA expert committee recommended needed doing, and demonstrates further the feasibility of this technique. However it is still a long way off ready for human use,” Professor Braude said.

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Life & Style
life
VIDEO
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit