Children with three genetic parents could become reality in the UK. The fertility regulator, sensing an urgent public need, is to consult the public about whether the rules banning this for non-research purposes should be changed.
In some respects the “three parents” is a misnomer, but genetic material from two females and one male would be used to create embryos as part of a genetic strategy to combat certain serious inheritable diseases.
There are two methods in question, one involving manipulation of the egg before it is fertilised, and the other involving the early-stage embryo. Prime Minister David Cameron has shown strong support for the controversial plans, urging Health Department officials to speed up testing of the new IVF procedure. Mr Cameron's son Ivan died aged 6 in 2009 after suffering from severe epilepsy and cerebral palsy. Although this was not due to a mitochondrial disease, the PM has become a warm supporter of this line of research.
The first method, “pronuclear transfer”, involves transferring the pronuclei from the embryo with unhealthy mitochondria and placing it into an embryo with healthy mitochondria, leaving the unhealthy mitochondria behind. This new embryo contains DNA of the father and mother, and the mitochondria from an egg donor.
The second, “maternal spindle transfer”, involves transferring the nuclear DNA from an egg (instead of an embryo) with unhealthy mitochondria and placing it into an egg with healthy mitochondria.
In both cases, the child would carry have genetic material from three people, although experts say the donor's contribution is small. Critics argue it is genetic modification of humans and should not be allowed. There are around 150 mitochondrial diseases, and 1 in every 5,000 children, or 160 every year in the UK, are affected.
Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said:
"We are as anxious as anybody to see cures for the many serious conditions related to mitochondrial defects, but what is being proposed is not a cure either for the individual patient or the diseases themselves. It is an attempt to genetically modify the human species, creating an abnormal embryo using donor components from three or more adult sources, passing on these changes to future generations, with who knows what awful consequences."
The HFEA has conducted a number of public consultations in the past on controversial issues like the welfare of the child, hybrids and chimeras, and cloning. Normally the results are quite predictable: as if tutored by Yes, Minister’s Sir Humphrey Appleby, the HFEA learns that the public is broadly in favour of the policy under study (see YouTube video). ~ London Telegraph, Jun 4; Daily Mail, Jun 3
This article is published by Jared Yee and BioEdge.org under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.