After winning a majority vote in Parliament, doctors in Britain will for the first time in history be allowed to use the DNA of a 'second mother' into one IVF embryo to fix faulty genetic material in babies at risk of mitochondrial diseases.
Mitochondrial donation will not only modify the human genetic make-up of the IVF babies created by the process, but also of future generations of children within those families.
Dr Marie Wren, Deputy Medical Director of The Lister Fertility Clinic at The Lister Hospital has welcomed the new legislation, saying that any medically-sound practice which can reduce the distressing impact of the fatal mitochondrial disease should be explored.
Mitochondria are tiny energy-generating structures in cells, which are essential for all human cells to work. They are inherited from the mother's genese and when faulty can have devastating effects, predominately on the organs that need high level of energy to function, such as the brain, heart, kidneys, muscles and liver. Mitochondrial diseases are often extremely debilitating, inevitably progressive and lead to muscle weakness, blindness, deafness, dementia, major organ failure and often death at an early age.
Consultant gynaecologist at Lister, James Nicopoullos, explained further: "Although we understand the ethical and moral concerns that such advances raise, this legislation follows an extensive independent consultation process by the fertility regulatory body (HFEA) who published three scientific review documents outlining that this procedure is not unsafe. This was further supported by backing from a public consultation process, as well as a review by the Nuffield Council of Bioethics.
"Mitochondrial DNA make up only a tiny proportion of our genes (probably <0.1%) and are only involved in energy production and determine no other characteristics. It is the DNA in the nucleus of our cells that shapes our characteristics, personality traits and make us the people we are, and this would be unaffected by these treatments. The process of transferring a healthy nucleus from an embryo containing unhealthy mitochondria to a donor’s embryo containing healthy mitochondria (but with the nucleus removed) will offer hope to the parents of the 1 in 6500 children born in the UK with a life-threatening and often terrible debilitating disease.
"As the HFEA report states, research can never answer every question before a new treatment is offered so moving from research into clinical practice always involves some uncertainty. As a consequence the clinical application of mitochondrial donation will be carefully regulated and the children followed up extensively. We feel that the work of the scientists in Newcastle has shown the UK to be at the forefront of scientific development and has been supported by the stringent ethical and legislative processes we have in place."