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
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
Review: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
VIDEO
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
Sport
Tour de France 2014Sir Rodney Walker on organising the UK stages of this year’s race
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan in ‘Jamaica Inn’
TVJessica Brown Findlay on playing the spirited heroine of Jamaica Inn
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
News
People
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLE
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

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
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