BRITISH scientists have been given the go-ahead to create a human embryo with two genetic mothers.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority reversed an earlier ban on the research project at Newcastle University.
The programme will involved transferring some genetic material from the fertilised egg of one woman into an egg from another.
The aim is to avoid mothers passing a range of incurable genetic diseases to their unborn babies.
Critics branded it a ‘biotechnological nightmare’ and another step towards a chilling world of reproductive cloning, currently banned in the UK.
Matthew O’Gorman, of the charity LIFE, said: ‘This decision is utterly unethical, abhorrent and contrary to public opinion.
The HFEA is relentlessly imposing its libertarian agenda on the people of this country against their wishes. The Government must act to disband it immediately.’ The decision was welcomed, however, by fertility specialists, who said it could relieve the suffering of families afflicted with a genetic curse. Supporters of the work, who
include the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, say one in 5,000 children and adults are at risk of developing one of the incurable conditions involved.
The research proposes eradicating the legacy of faulty genes carried in the mother’s mitochondria the energy ‘ batteries’ that power most cells in the body.
The mitochondria have their own DNA, inherited only from the mother. Faults in this can result in some 50 disorders affecting the brain, muscles, heart and liver.
The research will involve transferring most of the genetic material out of a fertilised egg containing ‘bad’ mitochondria.
It will then be put into another woman’s unfertilised egg containing ‘good’ mitochondria. None of the resulting embryos will be implanted.
If the work should eventually lead to approval for a child to be born, it would share the overwhelming majority of its DNA with its parents meaning it would not have the physical characteristics of the second mother. But there are fears that such genetic changes could produce unforeseen defects in future generations.
A leading psychologist said last night it would be a mistake to ever tell a child he has three parents.
Dr David Holmes of Manchester Metropolitan University said: ‘It could make them insecure and doubt the people who have brought them up.’ The new research will be headed by neurology professor Doug Turnbull and Dr Mary Herbert, scientific director of Newcastle Fertility Centre.
A spokesman for the team said the granting of a licence was ‘the very first step in a very difficult process. While the technique has been found to be safe in animal embryos, it will be very important to determine whether it can be safely used in human eggs’.
The programme will use fertilised eggs from couples undergoing IVF treatment which have been rejected as substandard.
The Newcastle licence application was originally rejected by the HFEA because it was thought to be outside the 1990 Act governing fertility research.
An appeals committee reversed the decision after hearing evidence from some of the world’s leading geneticists. It called the work ‘necessary and desirable’.
Fertility specialist Professor Peter Braude of King’s College, London, said ‘I am delighted to hear that this important work will be pursued in the UK, and that the HFEA have had the wisdom to ‘If it works and is safe it will be the answer to the prayers of those inflicted with these awful disorders.’
Alastair Kent, chairman of the Genetic Interest Group, said: ‘Only a very small number of genes are involved and this is a humane and sensible to way to carry out research that may lead to the treatment and eradication of these lethal diseases.’ But LIFE’s Mr O’Gorman said any step towards creating humans with three genetic parents should be resisted.
He said: ‘We support all ethical license it.
attempts to find cures for disabilities but one cannot countenance the deliberate creation of genetically abnormal children, however noble the motive may be.
‘This is a biotechnological nightmare. Decisions of this magnitude should be made by Parliament, not an unelected and unaccountable quango.’ It was announced in May that scientists at Newcastle University had cloned a human embryo for the first time in Britain.
They hope the work will lead to treatments for degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, or for the paralysed victims of spinal injuries.
But critics say every advance in therapeutic cloning could help mavericks who want to create cloned babies. Reproductive cloning is illegal in the UK.
The tragic twins AN earlier experiment to create babies with two ‘genetic mothers’ ended in tragedy in China.
U.S. experts, working there because the process was banned everywhere else, used the shell of a donated egg to rejuvenate a fertilised one from a woman whose infertility problem was caused by poor-quality eggs.
The mother became pregnant with twins but lost both before birth, despite carrying the second for six months. Tests showed they had no genetic defects but the team halted their work and China banned any more such projects.
The experiment, which came to light two years ago, is not the same as those planned in Britain.
In 2001, scientists in New Jersey reported that 15 healthy children had been born in a programme with used donated mitochondria from fertile women to treat infertile ones.
WHAT THE SCIENTISTS WANT TO DO
Bad Mitochondria PRONUCLEI Good Mitochondria They plan to experiment on a fertilised egg from a woman who carries faulty mitochondrial DNA.
The scientists will remove tiny structures called pronuclei, which will then be put into a fertilised egg from another women with only healthy mitochondrial DNA.
Although this second egg has been fertilised, the pronuclei DNA from the male and female that made this egg will be removed.
The result would be an embryo with pronuclei DNA from the parental egg and sperm but mitochondria from the donor egg.
This embryo would share almost all its physical characteristics and DNA with its parents.
But scientists believe it would also be free of the risk of mitochondrial disease.