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December 16, 2016

UK first to approve ‘Three parent baby’ technique for use

The UK agency that oversees in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and research related to human embryos announced on Thursday that it would approve the use of mitochondrial donation in select cases, opening the door for the first “three-person baby” to be born next year.

According to NPR reports, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HEFA) said that fertility clinics interested in becoming licensed to perform the procedures, in which the DNA of a third individual is inserted into an embryo to prevent life-threatening genetic diseases from being spread from mother to son, would now be allowed to submit applications to the agency.

Those applications would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and the techniques used in these procedures would be sanctioned and regulated by HEFA, the organization said. As the Guardian noted, this could potentially mean that the first three-parent baby will be born sometime in 2017, nearly two years after the procedure was originally made legal by the British Parliament.

“After a lot of hard work and invaluable advice from the expert panel, who reviewed the development, safety, and efficacy of these techniques over five years and four reports, we feel now is the right time to carefully introduce this new treatment in the limited circumstances recommended by the panel,” HEFA chairperson Sally Cheshire said in a statement.

“Today’s historic decision means that parents at very high risk of having a child with a life-threatening mitochondrial disease may soon have the chance of a healthy, genetically related child. This is life-changing for those families,” she added. In an interview with the Guardian, Adam Balen, head of the British Fertility Society, called it “a momentous and historic step.”

Experts call the decision ‘a triumph for the research’

As BBC News explained, mitochondrial donation procedures are used to combat diseases which otherwise cannot be treated, and which are passed down from a mother to a child. These ailments leave people without the energy to keep their heart beating, but by giving an unborn child a tiny bit of DNA from a second woman, these mitochondrial diseases can be prevented.

While the child will have DNA from all three individuals (the mother, father and the second woman) scientists have argued that the procedure is ethical and ready to be utilized, the UK media agency noted. Now, with HEFA’s approval, the “cautious use” of the technique has been given the green light, but only in “cases where alternative treatments would be of little or no benefit to mothers at risk of passing mitochondrial disease onto their children,” the agency said.

Even though the British Parliament legalized the procedure in February 2015, HEFA wanted to wait until an independent team of scientists completed their own separate review and gave their own recommendations before acting, according to NPR. That review was completed last month and recommended the limited approval of mitochondrial donation in select instances.

Newcastle Fertility Centre professor of reproductive biology Mary Herbert told the Guardian that she and her colleagues were “delighted” by the news and noting that they would apply for a license as soon as possible. She added that the move was “a huge triumph for the research, for the regulatory process in the UK, and most importantly for all the families who are affected.”

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