January 20, 2012
New Technique Could Give Child Three Biological Parents
Researchers have determined that babies with three biological parents could be a reality within three years by using a new IVF technique.
The Wellcome Trust and Newcastle University report that they have secured new funding to develop the treatment, which could prevent genetic conditions affecting the heart, muscle or brain being passed on to children and future generations.
The method has been seen as controversial because it involves transferring the parents' DNA into a donor egg, which could cause the child to inherit a fraction of their genetic coding from a third party.
The researchers announced the funding for further lab-based research as the Department of Health ordered a public consultation on whether the technology should be continued to study.
The Health Secretary will look into both the scientific and political criteria to determine whether the treatment will continue to be researched.
Although 99.8 percent of our DNA is inherited evenly from the father and mother, a tiny fraction resides in the mitochondria and is passed down by the mother.
Faults in the mitochondria cause severe and incurable diseases like muscular dystrophy or ataxia in about one in 6,500 people.
The researchers believe they have developed a method which could prevent this group of disease from being transmitted, and potentially wipe them out within a generation.
“The important thing is that this has the possibility of stopping the disease completely," Professor Doug Turnbull, who is leading the research, said in a statement. “If this technique proves to be as safe as IVF and as effective as the preliminary studies, I think we could totally prevent the transmission of these diseases.”
The technique the researchers developed involves taking one egg from the mother, and another from a donor, then removing the nucleus from the donor's egg and replacing it with the nucleus from the mother.
The child would inherit their identity from their mother and father, but would take the donor's mitochondrial DNA, resulting in a child being born with genetic material from three people.
According to Sir Mark Walport, head of the Wellcome Trust, the genetic impact of having DNA composed of three people would be as minimal as changing the batteries in a camera.
“We welcome the opportunity to discuss with the public why we believe this technique is essential if we are to give families affected by these diseases the chance to have healthy children, something most of us take for granted," Walport said in a statement.
U.S. researchers have conducted similar studies on monkeys that resulted in healthy offspring, and trials on mice showed that the genetic conditions were not inherited by future generations either.
The U.K. team has only tested their technique with abnormal, discarded IVF eggs so far, but the new funding would enable trials with healthy, surplus IVF or donor eggs.
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