Procedure to Create Three-Parent Babies to Be Legalized in April?
Could we have babies with three parents within the next year? Researchers have rapidly been working towards creating children with three genetic parents in order to cure mitochondrial diseases, and the procedure could be legalized in the UK as soon as next April.
[Credit: Daily Mail]
The genetic engineering technique, called mitochondrial transfer, replaces mitochondrial DNA in an embryo that could cause mitochondrial diseases such as muscular dystrophy, and replaces that DNA with mitochondrial DNA from a healthy donor. (For more details on the procedure, click here.) The UK Department of Health announced that it would move forward with plans to legalize this procedure. They recently held a three-month-long public consultation that drew 1,850 responses, most of which were supportive of the procedure, and the final vote is expected to take place in April.
Robert Meadowcroft, CEO of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, said, "It is now up to the government to ensure that these regulations are considered and approved by parliament before the next general election in May 2015, or risk losing the progress that has been made towards taking this pioneering technique forward. We need to see a firm commitment to debating this issue in parliament before the end of the year."
Doug Turnbull, the doctor who developed the procedure, is pleased that the procedure is gaining legal traction, but is concerned about the consequences of potential delays: "The important thing now is that it gets into parliament this session. My fear is that if this is delayed, we are into a new government, and we cannot know the shape or support of that government, and it could be delayed for a long time. Patients in the UK would miss out."
And delays are a definite possibility, as the UK's fertility watchdog organization, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), will need to devise a process for families to seek approval for the procedure before it goes to Parliament, and a research panel is conducting experiments that will better inform the public about the safety of the procedure. Then, even after these organizations have had their say, the proposed regulations will need to be approved by both the joint committee of statutory instruments and the secondary legislation scrutiny committee before Parliament can hold a final vote.
There is no concrete evidence that this technique poses any dangers to the children, but there are concerns that, if there are unforeseen side effects, then any genetic defects would be passed on to future generations, as mitochondrial DNA is always passed on to the child. However, only .2% of the child's DNA will belong to the donor, and there is no indication that the specific genes that would be replaced would have any kind of deleterious interactions with other genes.
Turnbull said, "My patients are making choices all the time. Some don't want to have more children because of the risk. Others have egg donation. There is going to be a risk with any sort of new technique, but everything that's been done so far suggests the risks will be less than with passing these diseases on."