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Ethics body backs potential 'three-parent' IVF treatment

A Think tank has backed controversial plans for 'three-parent IVF' Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

A report from an influential think tank could help clear the way to IVF babies being born with DNA from three different people.

Outlawed techniques that give a baby DNA from a father, a mother and a woman donor to prevent inherited disorders are morally justified, says the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

If further research shows these techniques to be sufficiently safe and effective, we think it would be ethical for families to use them if they wished to, provided they receive an appropriate level of information and support."

– Dr Geoff Watts, chairman of the Nuffield Council inquiry

Theirpurpose is to stop the transmission of defective mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) frommothers to their babies.

Children born after 'Three parent IVF' would possess nuclear DNA inherited from their parents plus mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) from a woman donor.

  • Around a hundred babies a year are born with genetic defects in what scientists call mitochondrial genes.
  • Faulty mitochondrial genes can lead to a wide range of serious disorders including heart malfunction, kidney and liver disease, stroke, dementia, and blindness.
  • Around 6,000 adults in the UK are believed to be affected by mitochondrial diseases.
Controversy surrounds 'three-parent IVF' Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Controversy surrounds attempts to prevent mitochondrial diseases through hi-tech variations of In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatment.

One technique, pronuclear transfer, involves transferring nuclear DNA out of a day-old embryonic cell containing defective mitochondria.

The DNA is planted into another single-cell embryo whose mitochondria function normally.

The donor embryo's own nuclear DNA is discarded. However, it still contains the normal mitochondria of the woman whose egg was fertilised to create it.

As it grows, the embryo produces a baby with DNA from three sources - nuclear DNA from the original parents, plus a tiny amount of mitochondrial DNA from the woman egg donor.

Although such techniques are banned, they could be voted in by Parliament under existing legislation.

As with IVF and cloning, this mitochondrial technique may well lead to the developmental abnormalities. Creating embryonic children in the laboratory abuses them, by subjecting them to unnatural processes. These techniques are both destructive and dangerous and therefore unethical."

– Anthony Ozimic, Pro-life group Society for the Protection of Unborn Children

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