Three-Parent Method May Help Eliminate Hereditary Diseases
March 20, 2013

Three-Parent Method May Help Eliminate Hereditary Diseases

Brett Smith for — Your Universe Online

British officials are debating whether or not to legalize new in vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques that would eliminate dangerous hereditary diseases, but would essentially create a child from three different parents.

According to the UK´s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), a public consultation in 2012 indicated UK citizens mostly support the use of the potentially life-saving technique, despite any safety or ethical concerns.

“Overall, participants were fairly positive about the techniques, seeing them as a way of offering parents the chance to have a healthy child that is genetically their own,” HFEA´s report on the consultation said.

“Broadly speaking the public was in favor of these novel techniques being translated into treatments,” Neva Haites, who was on the expert panel that oversaw the consultation, told BBC News. "They felt that any ethical concerns were outweighed by potential benefits."

The authority noted one of the public´s biggest concerns was about a "slippery slope" which could lead to other kinds of genetic manipulation.

The treatments in question would be to prevent genetic diseases related to mitochondria, the ℠power plant´ of the cell. Genetically defective mitochondria can result in chronic muscle weakness, blindness, heart failure and even death.

The genetic material for mitochondria is passed from the mother to her child, making the egg or a fertilized embryo the focus of the cutting edge treatment. UK scientists have devised two techniques analogous to removing the yolk from a fried egg and replacing it with a yolk from another fried egg.

In one technique, the scientists would first fertilize two eggs -- a parents´ egg and a donor egg -- with the same sperm. The scientists would then remove the nucleus from the parents´ embryo, leaving the unhealthy mitochondria behind. The parent´s nucleus would then be inserted into the donor embryo — replacing the donor nucleus.

In the other technique, scientists would remove the nucleus from the mother´s egg, essentially separating it from the mother´s defective mitochondria. This nucleus would then be swapped into a donor egg that had its nucleus removed.

The result of either of these techniques is a child that is derived from three different people´s zygotes.

Besides worries over a “slippery slope” of genetic tinkering, people also raised concerns over privacy issues. At one HFEA meeting, opinion appeared to be mixed over releasing the identification of donors, according to the BBC.

"If a child wants to know about that, why are we so restrictive,” asked Hossam Abdalla, clinical director of the Lister Fertility Clinic in London. “Why are we telling them they can't have this access?”

While the treatments were objected to based upon safety and ethical concerns, many groups saw the genetic techniques as a way to address chronic and debilitating diseases.

"This technique does involve a step into new scientific territory," said Marita Polschmidt, director of research at the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign. "But it is a calculated, specific step with the sole aim of preventing a potentially fatal condition from being passed down to the next generation."