Controversial genetic technique questioned

The future of a highly controversial genetic technique that aims to stop serious conditions being passed from mothers onto their babies will be partially decided by public opinion. The technique replaces genetic material in the egg that is defective to eliminate the rare mitochondria diseases. Ministers, after consultations looking into 3 parent IVF, will decide whether it can become openly available to patients and allow them to have healthy babies.

A centre at Newcastle University, funded by the Wellcome Trust to the tune of £5.8m will be investigating the safety of the technique. Mitochondria is found inside almost all human cells, and provides the energy they need to function properly. As with the cells nucleus, they contain DNA, but only in tiny quantities.

Around 1 in 5000 babies are born with inherited defects present in their mitochondria DNA, and depending on which cells are affected, the results can be extremely severe, and even fatal in some cases. Scientists now believe that they have found a way of substituting the defective mitochondria which, hopefully, prevent the baby from developing a disease.

The way they do this is by taking 2 eggs; one from the mother and the second one from a donor. The nucleus is then removed from the donor egg, leaving the mitochondria and the other contents intact, and that is replaced with the nucleus from the mothers egg. The resulting embryo now has properly functioning mitochondria, courtesy of the donor, and should, theoretically, develop healthily.

This technique has been likened to replacing a battery, and as there in no impact on the DNA no other factors will be altered, such as appearance. Although the child would have an extremely limited genetic contribution from its ‘3rd parent’, there is strong opposition from certain groups, who have said that there are major risks attached to such genetic manipulation.

A change in the current laws would be needed before this technique could be offered to patients. David Willetts is the minister for universities and science and he said, after announcing the consultations, that scientists have made a discovery into the prevention of mitochondria diseases that is both important and potentially life saving.

He added, however, that as with all cutting edge scientific discoveries, it was vial that the public’s views were taken into consideration before they considered any changes in the law that would allow it to be used. It is hoped that this consultation will be completed by the end of 2012.

The Wellcome Trust’s Sir Mark Walport has said that this technique could prevent the transferrence of diseases that were previously incurable. He added that they welcomed the chance to discuss with the public why they believe that this technique is vital in order to give those families who are affected by these diseases the opportunity to have healthy children, a thing that most of us simply take for granted.

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>