Three Person Fertility Treatment Approved in UK

Three Person Fertility Treatment Approved in UK

A highly controversial “three parent baby” technique was approved by the UK’s fertility regulatory agency, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) this week.1  The organization announced that it will accept applications from clinics seeking to license this procedure, two years after parliament voted for its legalization.2 Hospitals will begin using the procedure in the UK next year following this historical decision, yet the procedure has yet to be legalized in other countries.1  Doctors in Newcastle are currently applying for licenses and could begin performing the procedure as soon as spring 2017.2

The technique will use three person in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to prevent the inheritance of lethal genetic conditions. The experimental treatment is called mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT) and aims to prevent the inheritance of serious disorders caused by mutations in cell mitochondria.2 Children inherit their mitochondria exclusively from their mothers, and MRT involves transferring mitochondria from a healthy donor so that embryos receive a small amount of DNA from another woman in addition to the parental DNA.1

Approximately 1 in 10,000 babies are affected by mitochondrial diseases. As mitochondria are responsible for producing the majority of cells’ energy, many of these children die young due to tissue death and organ failure, which stem from lack of cellular energy.2 For many women, MRT is the first opportunity to have a healthy make it to term after trying for many years.2 Robert Meadowcroft, the CEO of Muscular Dystrophy UK, says he knows of “many women who have faced heartache and tragedy, and the sorrow of stillbirths, while trying to start their own family.”2 He believed that this decision and the availability of the procedure will give potential parents a newfound sense of hope and free choice.2

The procedure is not without its critics. Many are concerned about the donor’s role in the process and the babies’ prospective lives as a result of technically having three parents. However, according to the standards approved by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the donor has no will have no legal rights regarding the child.2

The procedure may also face a new obstacle after a recently published study claimed that it may not work for some women.3 A paper published in Nature by geneticist Shoukhrat Mitalipov suggests that the mother’s diseased DNA sometimes overcomes the healthy mitochondrial DNA and the disease results despite the treatment.3 Robin Lovell-Badge, a renowned stem cell scientist in the UK, told Nature that patients “must understand it’s impossible to ensure total safety until clinical trials have taken place.”3

HFEAis prepared to treat 25 women a year.1 Additionally, the National Health Service of England has said that they will provide £8m of funding for a five-year clinical trial.1 However, due to the controversy and novel nature of the procedure, the organizations and clinics involved are using caution moving forward so that women can make informed choices knowing the potential benefits and risks of MRT.2

 

References

  1. Forster, Katie. "Controversial 'three-parent Baby' Technique given Go-ahead in Historic Decision." Independent.co.uk. The Independent, 15 Dec. 2016. Web. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/three-parent-baby-hfea-allowed-technique-birth-child-ruling-fertility-decision-a7476731.html

  2. Sample, Ian. "First UK Baby with DNA from Three People Could Be Born next Year." Theguardian.com. The Guardian, 15 Dec. 2016. Web. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/dec/15/three-parent-embryos-regulator-gives-green-light-to-uk-clinics

  3. Cook, Micahel. "Is There a Last-minute Hitch with 3-parent Embryo Trials?" Bioedge.org. N.p., 3 Dec. 2016. Web. https://www.bioedge.org/bioethics/is-there-a-last-minute-hitch-with-3-parent-embryo-trials/12114

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