The world’s first baby with three genetic parents could soon be born in the UK, after the Government announced plans to legalise a controversial technique to help prevent children inheriting diseases.
In response to a consultation launched by ministers three months ago, the Department of Health has announced plans to legalise the use of IVF treatments which prevent babies from being born with diseases which affect mitochondria – the “powerhouse” of cells.
Now, Britain could become the first country in the world to allow mitochondrial replacement (MR) therapy, following Government changes to fertility rules in February.
If permitted, more than 100 “three-parent” babies could be born in the UK each year.
MR treatment works by removing the nuclear from a donor egg, and replacing it with genetic information from the mother’s egg. This egg is then fertilised by sperm, and is implanted using IVF techniques.
As the healthy mitochondrial DNA would be inherited by future generations, the treatment could potentially eradicate inherited diseases from affected families. Conditions can cause muscle wasting, heart problems, vision loss, organ failure, and epilepsy.
While critics argue that the treatment could be the first step towards “designer babies” and even eugenics, the regulations are to be drawn up over summer before they are presented to Parliament, a Department of Health spokeswoman said.
A final decision to allow patients access to the treatments will need the approval of both Houses of Parliament, but could come as early as next year.
“As the Government's latest consultation has again shown, there is broad public support for making mitochondrial replacement therapy available to patients,” said Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the medical charity the Wellcome Trust.
“There is now no excuse for the Government not to table regulations for debate as soon as Parliament returns this autumn, so that the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) can licence clinics to treat affected families without delay once it is satisfied that any risks are acceptable," he added.
Additional reporting by PA