The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority have confirmed that mitochondrial transfer procedures are ‘potentially useful for a specified and defined group of patients’. In addition they have said that the techniques are not unsafe but there are some critical experiments still to take place before the method hits the clinics.
Mitochondrial transfer would be seen as a lifeline for those who will inevitably pass a mitochondrial disease onto their children. I remember being told in my genetics degree how women would choose terminations based on what I would see as low percentage chances of their children inheriting such diseases, especially if they had seen the effects of a mitochondrial disease on a family member. These diseases are severe, often lethal and inherited from the mother only. Allowing this technique is a huge step but one which shouldn’t be taken lightly.
The technique involves removing the nucleus of the fertilised egg and transferring it into the donor egg with healthy mitochondria. The resulting child would have the DNA of both their parents and the mitochondrial DNA of the donor. The child would have no rights to find out who their donor is and a vote to allow the technique is expected in parliament later this year.
With the method sounding eerily close to cloning, public opinion is very much divided as people see this manipulation of human embryos a step too far. However for those who have seen mitochondrial diseases and know they are at risk of having children with them, this is very much a ray of hope.
My tweet from yesterday includes a link to some more information from Nature’s news pages…