The UK is set to become the first country to allow the creation of embryos by IVF technique using DNA from not two, but three people.
Despite vocal criticism, the government has said it will draft regulations later this year – with the procedure expected to be available within two years.
Medical experts believe the decision to allow for three-person IVF could help to eliminate the risk of potentially fatal diseases, like mitochondrial disease, that are passed to children by their mothers.
Mitochondria are described as the microscopic ‘power stations’ that give our bodies energy. But, one in every 6,500 babies in the UK are born with defective mitochondria that can be debilitating and result in muscle weakness, little energy, blindness, heart failure and in severe cases death.
However, research suggests using mitochondria from a donated egg can help to combat this debilitating and potentially fatal disease from being passed on to the child.
While the procedure could benefit up to one in 10 couples undergoing IVF, it would result in the babies being born with DNA from both parents as ell as the third donor – mitochondria have their own DNA.
Opponents of the three-person treatment believe the government’s support of what they see as ‘unethical’ medical techniques could set Britain go down a ‘slippery slope’ that could lead to other forms of genetic modification. They believe adoption or donated eggs should be used instead.
“Scientists have developed ground-breaking new procedures which could stop these disease being passed on, bringing hope to many families seeking to prevent their future children inheriting them.” The chief medical officer for England, Prof Dame Sally Davies, told reporters.
“It’s only right that we look to introduce this life-saving treatment as soon as we can.” Prof Davies argues after acknowledging that here were “clearly some sensitive issues here” and adding that shefelt “personally very comfortable” with altering mitochondria.
Children conceived using this technique would inherit 20,000 genes from their parents and 37 mitochondrial genes from the third donor.
Dr David King, the director of Human Genetics Alert believes the three-person technique is unnecessary and unsafe. “It is a disaster that the decision to cross the line that will eventually lead to a eugenic designer baby market should be taken on the basis of an utterly biased and inadequate consultation,” Mr King argued.