Newcastle doctors have been granted the first ever UK license to create babies from two women and one man, UK Fertility Regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, has announced. (And it’s for a very good reason).
The three-person baby-making procedure was approved by the fertility regulator late last year and this is the first license granted, so far.
The treatment is aimed at preventing devastating mitochondrial diseases which are passed down from mother (and less frequently from father) to child.
The Newcastle Fertility Centre expects the first baby to be born under this license some time in 2018, telling the BBC this development was a “momentous day” for parents. Some families have multiple children with this debilitating, sometimes fatal, incurable disease, confirming just how important preventative approaches are.
The groundbreaking IVF technique combines genetic material from a donor egg, the mother’s egg and the father’s sperm to create a healthy embryo. The BBC reports the donor egg provides healthy mitochondria, but everything that defines physical and personality traits still comes from parents.
What are mitochondrial diseases?
Mitochondrial disease is an inherited chronic illness that can be present at birth or develop later in life. It causes debilitating physical, developmental and cognitive disabilities. Symptoms include poor growth; loss of muscle coordination, muscle weakness and pain, seizures, vision and/or hearing loss, gastrointestinal issues, learning disabilities and organ failure. It is estimated that 1 in 4,000 people have mitochondrial disease. It’s progressive and there is no cure. – Source
Newcastle University’s Professor Sir Doug Turnbull – director of the Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research – says this development is a game-changer for families affected by these terrible diseases.
“I am delighted for patients as this will allow women with mitochondria DNA mutations the opportunity for more reproductive choice.
“Mitochondria diseases can be devastating for families affected and this is a momentous day for patients who have tirelessly campaigned for this decision.”
The Australian Mitochondrial Disease Foundation says that one baby is born with mitochondrial disease every week in Australia – equating to at least 60 babies each year. Around 1 in 200 Australians will carry a mitochondrial genetic defect.
CEO Sean Murray called on regulators to amend legislation and give Australian families the chance to access this important treatment locally.
“This development adds weight to the Australian Mitochondrial Disease Foundation’s call for the federal government to amend legislation so that affected Australian women can also have the chance to have healthy babies.
“Based on the extensive evidence available, the Australian Mitochondrial Disease Foundation believes the potential benefits of mitochondrial replacement outweigh the risks for unborn children who would otherwise almost certainly develop potentially deadly mitochondrial disease.
A US fertility team’s first three person baby was born last year, with the aim of preventing Leigh Syndrome being passed from mother to child.
The parents of this baby had already experienced the loss of two children to the condition – one at 8 months and one at 6 years of age – and endured four miscarriages.
The US team travelled to Mexico to carry out the procedure, avoiding US regulations, convinced this revolutionary procedure was this couple’s best chance at a healthy child.
This new UK license paves the way for other families to realise their dreams of having a family and may herald a new era of fighting mitochondria diseases.
Many Australian families will be hoping we follow suit sooner, rather than later.