Today the UK became the first country to officially allow doctors to create three-parent babies, in a historic ruling. The technique, in which the mitochondria from the mother’s egg is replaced with those from a donor, is thought will be able to help cure certain mitochondrial diseases.
“After a lot of hard work and invaluable advice from the expert panel, who reviewed the development, safety, and efficacy of these techniques over five years and four reports, we feel now is the right time to carefully introduce this new treatment in the limited circumstances recommended by the panel,” said The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) Chair, Sally Cheshire.
The procedure has raised some ethical questions around the nature of producing children who technically have DNA derived from three separate people within their cells. These questions still remain, but the HFEA will now allow clinics to apply for a license to let them carry out the procedure, which they will now assess on a case by case basis.
“Mitochondrial donation offers a real opportunity to cure a class of potentially devastating inherited conditions and will bring hope to hundreds of affected families in the UK,” said Professor Dagan Wells, from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at the University of Oxford. “The UK has led the world in terms of the debate over the ethical acceptability of the procedures and has taken a responsible, careful approach before finally approving clinical application.”
This means that babies with genetic information from three parents could be born as early as next year in the UK. Doctors in Newcastle have already appealed for donor eggs in the expectation of carrying the procedure out as soon as possible. This will not, however, be the first time ever that a child has been born this way.
Earlier this year a US-based team of doctors in Mexico made history by performing the treatment on a Jordanian couple. The mother of the child carried genes for Leigh syndrome, a fatal disorder that affects the developing nervous system, in around a quarter of her mitochondria, which had resulted in the deaths of her first two children. The method used by the doctors has not yet been approved in the US, which is why they had to travel to Mexico in order to conduct the procedure.