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'Three parent IVF' technique set for approval
28th June 2013 - The UK could become the first country to approve an innovative IVF technique to prevent babies being born with certain rare disabling genetic disorders.
The technique produces embryos containing DNA from 3 people to help prevent serious mitochondrial diseases that are passed on from mother to child.
The government will produce draft regulations later this year.
What are mitochondrial diseases and how does this controversial IVF technique work? Read our FAQs.
What are mitochondria?
Mitochondria are responsible for producing energy that cells in our body need in order to function.
They are sometimes referred to as the cell's 'batteries'.
They are passed from mother to baby.
What are mitochondrial diseases?
When babies are born with defective mitochondria, they can develop serious health problems, such as heart and liver disease and respiratory problems.
It can even lead to death in infants.
How common are mitochondrial diseases?
One in 6,500 babies is born with mitochondrial disorder.
Around 12,000 people in the UK live with these conditions.
What is the 'three parent' IVF technique?
The technique involves transferring genetic material from the nucleus of an egg or embryo from a woman carrying a mitochondrial disease into an egg or embryo from a healthy donor that has had its nuclear DNA removed. This means the resulting embryo will have the affected mother's nuclear DNA but will not inherit the mitochondrial disease, so allowing a woman carrying defective mitochondria to have healthy children.
The resulting embryo has the nuclear DNA of the mother and father, but the mitochondrial DNA of the donor - hence the label 'Three Parent IVF' treatment.
Are there any ethical problems?
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act did not originally allow eggs and embryos that have had their nuclear or mitochondrial DNA altered to be used for treatment. However, a 2008 amendment allows the ban to be overturned without passing new laws if the altered egg or embryo is used in assisted conception to prevent the transmission of serious mitochondrial disease.
The government says that a public consultation found that overall there was general support for mitochondria replacement to take place, subject to strict safeguards and careful regulation.
It says it could save around 10 lives each year.
Dame Sally Davies, the government's chief medical officer, says in a statement: "It's only right that we look to introduce this life-saving treatment as soon as we can."
What happens next?
Draft regulations will be published later this year and put out to further public consultation.
These regulations will set out strict safeguards covering when and how the technique can be used.