'Three-parent' babies approved in the UK
In a historic move, the apex fertility regulation body in the UK, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HEFA), announced that it would start accepting applications for "three-parent" babies after it reviewed scientific evidence for the safety of the procedure. In simpler words, the procedure would allow the creation of babies from the DNA of three people thereby minimizing risk of genetic disorders.
"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," said Sally Cheshire, the chair of HEFA.
The experimental procedure, called Mitochondria Replacement Therapy (MRT), was developed to help women with mutations in the DNA of their mitochondria. The procedure takes the mother's fertilized egg with the unhealthy mitochondria, and removes the parents' nuclear material from it. It then takes a donor's fertilized egg with healthy mitochondria, removes the donor's nuclear material, and inserts the parents' nuclear material into it.
A large percentage of children who are born with mitochondrial disease die young. Mitochondrial disease can affect a child in myriad ways - the mutations could cause the brain, heart, muscles and other high energy-demanding tissues to fail.
While the treatment gives a glimmer of hope to affected couples, it comes with its own risks. Studies suggest that it is possible for mutated DNA to be carried over from the mother's egg into the donor's, where it can replicate and potentially jeopardize any attempts to block genetic diseases. Furthermore, any glitches caused by the procedure could be passed down to future generations.
About one in every 10,000 newborns are born with mitochondrial disease. It is estimated that 125 such children are born in the UK every year. Sally Chesire added that around 3,000 families in the UK could benefit from the treatment, but "many won't come forward".
The procedure has received mixed reactions. While members of HEFA and other researchers and professors have hailed the decision to legalize the procedure, calling it a "new hope", they have also urged caution. However, the Roman Catholic Church opposed the move as it involves the destruction of embryos. Meanwhile the Church of England stated that ethical concerns "have not been been sufficiently explored".