Guest Blog by The Bridge Centre, one of the UK’s leading fertility, gynaecology, genetics and IVF clinics. With IVF success rates among the best in the country, The Bridge Centre can provide the expert support couples and individuals need to help them overcome their difficulties resulting from infertility.
In what will be a world first, the UK has moved another step closer to becoming the only country to allow the creation of babies from three people.
The latest step in the creation of a baby using this method has been buoyed by research from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HEFA), which has presented the government with its recommendations which explain that there is no evidence to suggest this form of IVF is unsafe.
The final decision as to whether the advanced IVF procedures will become a reality for British women rests with government ministers. If the procedure is approved then it is anticipated that a handful of families will benefit every year.
The technique is being developed as a method of countering serious ‘mitochondrial disorders’, which currently affect one in 6,500 children. Whilst research suggests that using mitochondria from a donor egg would eliminate the risk of debilitating and potentially fatal disorders, there are concerns about the risks associated with babies carrying DNA from two parents, as well as a very small proportion from a third donor.
As you would expect from such a proposal, it is not only the safety of such a treatment that has raised concerns, but also the ethical issues involved in this form of genetic modification. Despite the apprehension raised by some parties, public consultations conducted on the issue thus far have revealed a largely positive response to the proposals, with the majority of the public believing the potential benefits to outweigh the ethical implications.
What are mitochondria?
Mitochondria are analogous to tiny biological battery packs, which supply energy to almost every cell in the human body. Defects in the mitochondria can have the effect of starving the body of energy, with the consequences including blindness, heart failure and even death.
The mitochondria itself is passed from mother to child, and is not derived by the father’s sperm. This means that by taking genetic information from one egg, and placing it in a donor’s egg with healthy mitochondria, the risk of these defects can be eliminated. However, as some genetic information is contained in the mitochondria, the baby will then share the genes of three people.
The way forward
If the new techniques are approved by government ministers, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority recommends that any children created using this method of treatment should be monitored closely, as should their offspring after that.
In a recent open meeting held by HEFA, there were also concerns raised regarding the identification of the healthy egg’s donor. As the law stands, the donor is currently identified when either sperm or an egg is donated. Whilst HEFA believed the child has no reason to know the identity of the donor in this case, public opinion on the matter is mixed.
The next stage in making three-person IVF legal in the UK is a vote in the House of Commons, followed by a deciding vote in the House of Lords. With mitochondrial diseases having such a devastating impact on British families, it is widely hoped the new treatment will receive official support sooner rather than later.