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Newcastle University experts a step closer to eradicating incurable diseases

CONTROVERSIAL fertility treatment which could eradicate incurable inherited diseases would be an “ethical treatment option”, an independent report has concluded.

Professor Doug Turnbull of Newcastle University

CONTROVERSIAL fertility treatment which could eradicate incurable inherited diseases would be an “ethical treatment option”, an independent report has concluded.

Experts at Newcastle University have developed a fertility technique – contentiously dubbed three-parent IVF – which allows the successful transfer of DNA between two human eggs.

It is the first time such a system has been used and the landmark project has the potential to help prevent the transmission of serious inherited disorders known as mitochondrial diseases, which affect around one in 5,000 people in the UK.

The techniques being studied are highly controversial as pro-life campaigners have said it is “a step too far in meddling with human genetics”.

However, following a review by Nuffield Council on Bioethics, it has been concluded that the technique would be an ethical option, provided research shows that the treatment is likely to be safe and effective, and families are offered full information and support.

Prof Doug Turnbull, who is leading the research at Newcastle University’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research, said: “This is an important step forward as the review was done by an independent bioethics group, and this is of significant importance. They have listened to the evidence from a lot of different sources and they have based their conclusions on that evidence.

“This is a positive step and I am hopeful that in the future approval will be given to allow this treatment to be used.”

The groundbreaking fertility treatment involves taking the nucleus of an embryo from a mother with defective DNA and putting it into the egg of a woman with healthy DNA. This healthy egg is then implanted into the first woman, allowing them to create a baby free of genetic disease.

A child produced this way would have DNA from two women and a man. The nuclear DNA, which influences characteristics such as sex, height and eye colour, would come from the mother and father.

But the child would also have a small amount of mitochondrial DNA from the healthy donor. Dr Geoff Watts, chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ inquiry, said the treatment “could offer significant health and social benefits to individuals and families, who could potentially live their lives free from what can be very severe and debilitating disorders.”

Clinical geneticist Prof Frances Flinter, a member of the council’s working Group, said that it was “biologically inaccurate to refer to a mitochondrial donor as a second mother or third parent to the child.”

The Wellcome Trust charity – which co-funds the Nuffield Council on Bioethics – gave £4.4m to Newcastle University for research into mitochondrial diseases, but it was stressed that this has had no bearing of the council’s conclusions.

At the request of the Government, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority will launch a public consultation in September to seek the public’s opinion about the use of these techniques.

 

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