HUNDREDS of women have offered to donate their eggs for research into pioneering fertility treatment which could eradicate incurable inherited diseases.
As reported in The Journal, scientists at Newcastle University have been given a £5.8m funding boost to set up a world-first centre to further their work into the technique – controversially 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 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 the UK.
An appeal was launched to encourage North East women to donate their eggs to push forward the landmark research, and within just four days more than 600 women had offered their help.
Co-leader of the study Dr Mary Herbert, an embryologist, said she was overwhelmed at the high number of women keen to donate.
“The response we’ve had so far has been phenomenal and we didn’t expect so many women to come forward,” she said.
“We’re delighted that the research is being supported by these women as it means the egg donations will allow us to make progress with our work a lot faster.
“We’ve not yet had a chance to look at all the applications and we expect that not all will be suitable. We could be left with only 30% to 40% who are.
“As a result, we’re still urging as many women as possible to come forward to donate their eggs to progress our work.
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have already offered to donate.”
Mitochondrial diseases are passed on by the mother and the new technique being developed would reduce the risk of transmission of these disorders. This would allow a mother to give birth to a healthy child and eliminate mitochondrial diseases from the family line.
The call for more egg donors follows two announcements which will have significant implications for the work.
Firstly, the Wellcome Trust has given £4.4m to Newcastle University to help fund a new centre to develop the technique so it is ready to be used in patients. The university is contributing a further £1.4m.
Secondly, that the Government is to hold a public consultation into changing the law so that families could benefit from the new treatment.
The techniques have already been shown to work in the laboratory, but further experiments are needed to assess their safety before they can be used in clinics for patients.
Alison Murdoch, professor of Reproductive Medicine at Newcastle University and head of Newcastle Fertility Centre at Life, said: “Donations will be vital in providing a source of eggs for the researchers to be able to take forward work towards eliminating these currently incurable diseases.”
The new techniques to be studied at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research at Newcastle University involves transferring nuclear DNA from a mother’s egg to a donor egg containing normal mitochondria.
This may be done, via different procedures, either before or after fertilisation.
The mitochondrial transfer 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 her 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.
Those born with severe mitochondrial diseases can have medical problems such as muscular weakness, blindness, fatal heart failure, liver failure, learning disability and diabetes, and can die in early infancy.
CRITERIA FOR EGG DONATION
Women who wish to donate eggs altruistically need to be under the age of 35;
Women need to live in the North East so that medical care can be provided;
Donors will receive £500 compensation for inconvenience and loss of earnings;
Women who are having IVF treatment can continue to egg share for research and will have their treatment costs reduced by about £1,500, or to donate to another couple for a cost reduction;
For more information, call 0191 282 5000, or visit http://forms.ncl.ac.uk/view.php?id=2722