Why three-parent babies could be born on Britain's NHS within months

A controversial treatment to allow babies to be born to three parents is set to get the go ahead next year on the NHS.

Called mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT), the treatment will be allowed to ensure that devastating inherited diseases are not passed onto babies.

An independent panel of experts has now said that the treatment is safe and is recommending a “cautious adoption” of the procedure. The next step is for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), to give the final green light, which is expected to happen next year.

The treatment can replace abnormal genes in mitochondria in the body’s cells. While mitochondrial DNA only makes up 0.1 per cent of a person’s DNA when it goes wrong, the results can be fatal or life-changing as it can effect the organs, muscles, vision, growth and mental capacity.

Donor

The procedure involves taking out the fauty mitochondria and then replacing it with healthy versions from a donor. That means babies who are born following MRT will have three genetic parents. They will have DNA from their mother and father as usual, but a very small proportion will also come from an egg donor.

The nuclear DNA is taken out of a donor egg before the genetic material is added. It means that the embryo will have healthy mitochondria from the donor and the nuclear DNA from their mother and father.

The controversial treatment has been pioneered by boffins at the University of Newcastle, who say they already have women who are desperate to have the therapy so they can make sure their offspring do not suffer from genetic disease. They now want to apply for a licence so they can start to offer the funding and believe they will be treating 25 women per year through the NHS.

Officials from the HFEA will be holding a key meeting on December 15 to decide if clinics will be allowed to apply to offer the procedure. It it says ‘yes’ then the first women could receive the treatment next spring.

 

 



Judith is a qualified journalist who has worked in both the UK and the US, specialising in writing about politics, education and health.