The UK government has given its tentative approval for a three-person in vitro fertilization, or IVF, technique. With regulations set to be drafted later this year, the world’s first three-parent baby could be delivered within two years.
The UK is the first country in the world to approve the new IVF technique, BBC reports. The three-parent IVF technique gathers DNA from three parents and involves the fertilization of two separate eggs, one from the parents and another from a donor. Due to mitochondrial defects, the pronuclei is removed from the fertilized egg of the mother and transferred to the donor egg, while the donor’s pronuclei are removed. The pronuclei contain the genetic material from the original parents, while the donor egg adds the third set of DNA.
Mitochondria act as the cell’s energy generator while also playing a role in cellular signaling and differentiation. Mitochondrial disorders are incurable and have been associated with nervous tissue and muscle tissue degeneration, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as various diseases and disorders affecting neurological function. Liver failure, muscular dystrophy and heart problems can be inherited due to mitochondrial defects, Reuters notes.
According to Reuters, diseases due to mitochondrial defects affect in 1 out of 6,500 children. Supporters of the three-person IVF technique say the risk for passing mitochondrial diseases, inherited by the child from the mother, could be reduced or eliminated with this technique. Opponents believe there are other options available to parents, such as adoption or donor eggs, while it could lead to the creation of “designer babies,” where desirable traits are plucked from genetic material a la sci-fi movie “Gattaca.”
Scientists have been able to develop two different methods to perform the IVF technique, BBC says, but it is in the early stages of research. While the UK government has approved its usage, it will draft rules and regulations to ensure safe practice.
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Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, said of the technique, “Scientists have developed ground-breaking new procedures, which could stop these diseases being passed on, bringing hope to many families seeking to prevent their children inheriting them.” The technique passed an ethical board review in 2012 and had to pass research showing it was safe and effective before it could be publicly used, Reuters reports.
After the regulations are drafted, the three-person IVF technique will be voted on by parliament as early as 2014. According to BBC, the new technique could help 10 UK couples per year as regulation would limit the procedure to the more severe cases.