UK legislators vote to legalize three-person babies

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Lawmakers in the UK have overwhelmingly voted in favor of a law that would allow for the creation of genetically-engineered babies containing the DNA of three people (two women and one man), various media outlets reported on Tuesday.

According to BBC News,  the 382-128 vote in the House of Commons brings the UK one step closer to becoming the first country in the world to allow for the creation of a fetuses that contain DNA from three different people – an attempt to stop the passage of genetic diseases.

As Engadget explained, the technique is a twist on traditional in vitro fertilization methods which is meant to prevent would-be mothers suffering from mitochondrial disease to pass the condition onto their children. Mitochondrial disease causes these so-called cellular power plants to not function properly, leading to a variety of muscular, neurological and cardiovascular.

Because the disease attacks the body’s own building blocks, there is no actual cure for the disease, the website added. Since mitochondrial DNA is passed onto a child exclusively from the mother, however, adding healthy nuclear DNA from the would-be mother and transplanting it onto the egg of a donor could help alleviate the risk that the baby will inherit the condition.

“When all is said and done, only a fraction of a fraction of the resulting baby’s DNA will come from that second woman (think on order of 0.1 percent),” Engadget said. “There’s no risk of the kid looking like a veritable stranger either, since the nuclear DNA from the primary mother (and not the mitochondrial DNA from the donor) is what helps define a child’s appearance.”

Good news for progressive medicine

The issue still needs to go before the House of Lords, and if the other branch of the legislature votes likewise, the first baby conceived from three patents could be born as early as next year. Supporters called the vote “good news for progressive medicine,” while critics argue the technique “raises too many ethical and safety concerns,” according to BBC News.

Approximately 40 scientists from 14 countries have urged the British legislature to approve laws allowing mitochondrial DNA transfer, The Guardian said. An estimated 100 children annually are affected by genetic defects in the mitochondria, and in 10 percent of those cases, the defects can result in blindness, brain damage, liver failure and other severe illnesses.

In this technique, two eggs are removed (one from the mother and another from a donor), the newspaper explained. The nucleus of the donor egg is removed, leaving the rest of the contents (including the mitochondria). That nucleus is then replaced with the one from the mother’s egg, and the process can be done either before or after the egg is fertilized with sperm.

“This is good news for progressive medicine,” said Alison Murdoch, head of Newcastle Fertility Centre at Life, where the IVF technique was pioneered. “In a challenging moral field, it has taken scientific advances into the clinic to meet a great clinical need and Britain has showed the world how it should be done.”

“Families who know what it is like to care for a child with a devastating disease are best placed to decide whether mitochondrial donation is the right option for them,” added Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust. “We welcome this vote to give them that choice, and we hope that the House of Lords reaches a similar conclusion so that this procedure can be licensed under the UK’s internationally-admired regulatory system.”

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