Three-Parent Conception Helps Reduce Risk Of Inherited Mitochondrial Disease
June 3, 2014

Three-Parent Conception Helps Reduce Risk Of Inherited Mitochondrial Disease

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

To prevent deadly, inherited mitochondrial diseases – UK doctors have devised a unique scheme: create a fertilized embryo using eggs from two different women and sperm from one man.

According to a new report from the country’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the proposed procedure would be safe and possibly useful, setting the stage for a debate surrounding the ethics of engineering a three-parent child. The US is currently without legislation regulating assisted reproduction or prohibiting the use of mitochondrial replacement techniques for preventing disease.

“The panel is of the view that the techniques… are potentially useful for a specific and defined group of patients: those wishing to have their own genetically related child, but whose offspring are at risk of severe or lethal genetic disease, due to mutations in mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) which the mother carries,” the report said.

Mitochondria are essentially the power plants of the cell and diseases affecting these tiny organelles lead to an inadequate amount of energy for normal functioning. Symptoms of mitochondrial disease include muscle weakness, blindness and potentially heart failure.

"The direction of travel still suggests that it is all safe, but we don't know what's round the corner so we're being a little cautious,” panel member Robin Lovell-Badge from the UK’s Medical Research Council told BBC News.

While the panel did give its tacit approval in the report, it also called for multiple tests to be done before the two different procedures it investigated could be carried out. The tests would include assessing any risk of mutated mitochondria being transferred and a more detail assessment of the efficiency of both procedures.

"I think that (two years) is not a bad estimation,” Lovell-Badge said. “The other sorts of experiments that we thought were necessary, again it will take about two years to complete all of those."

Panel chairman Andy Greenfield, also from the Medical Research Council, said he was very concerned about safety.

"Are these techniques safe in humans? We won't know that until it's actually done in humans,” he said. "Until a healthy baby is born we cannot say 100 percent that these techniques are safe, if you think back to when IVF was a new technology all of these questions were asked before IVF."

According to The Telegraph, Greenfield also addressed potential critics of the procedure.

"I would like to stress a couple of things, these techniques are not related to, nor will lead to, reproductive cloning,” he said. "Individuals created by mitochondrial replacement are unique individuals ... so this is sexual reproduction with a twist.”

"Secondly this is not eugenics,” he continued, “eugenics it seems to me invokes preventing some individuals being born... These technologies will allow women to have genetically related and healthy children.”

"The mandate for this panel was the science, the research and the data, not ethics,” Greenfield pointed out.

If new regulations are adopted, it will be up to the HFEA to ‘green light’ treatment on a case-by-case basis. A mitochondrial transfer procedure will most likely only be allowed in cases of significant risk.