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Approval for 3-parent IVF treatment

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Farah Ahmed

15th December 2016 – Permission to create babies from 2 women and 1 man has been granted by the UK's fertility regulator.

The controversial technique, developed at Newcastle University, uses genetic material from a 'second mother' to repair faulty DNA. This can help prevent babies being born with deadly genetic diseases.

First treatment expected next year

Mitochondrial IVF will be licensed for use in clinics across the UK. Treatment could start as early as spring 2017.

It is thought that mitochondrial donation could help as many as 250,000 women in the UK who are at risk of passing on harmful DNA mutations in the mitochondria that could lead to debilitating conditions in their children.

Mitochondria are responsible for producing energy that cells in our body need in order to function and are sometimes referred to as the cell's 'batteries'.

When babies are born with defective mitochondria, they can develop serious health problems, such as heart and liver disease and respiratory problems.

The technique has run into opposition from some pro-life groups and some church leaders who have warned it could lead to so-called 'designer babies'.

Cautious' use

Today's approval by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) comes after a recommendation last month by an independent panel of experts that the technique should be made available for "cautious" use in "specific circumstances".

The HFEA says this means that the technique can be used in certain cases where alternative treatments would be of little or no benefit to mothers at risk of passing mitochondrial disease onto their children.

In a statement, Sally Cheshire, chair of the HFEA, says: "Today’s historic decision means that parents at very high risk of having a child with a life-threatening mitochondrial disease may soon have the chance of a healthy, genetically related child. This is life-changing for those families.

"After a lot of hard work and invaluable advice from the expert panel, who reviewed the development, safety and efficacy of these techniques over 5 years and 4 reports, we feel now is the right time to carefully introduce this new treatment in the limited circumstances recommended by the panel.

"Although it is tempting to rush ahead with new treatments, the UK approach of testing public opinion, putting the issue to parliament and carefully monitoring laboratory research has proved to be the most responsible and sustainable of introducing new, cutting edge treatments into the clinic. Such an approach has allowed us to balance innovation with safety, maintaining public trust as we go."

Clinics will now need to apply for a licence to perform the treatment. Professor Sir Doug Turnbull, director of the Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research at Newcastle University, said they wanted to treat up to 25 carefully selected patients each year.

Today's approval followed votes in the House of Commons and House of Lords backing regulations allowing mitochondrial donation IVF to take place.

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