MPs set to debate 'three-parent IVF' treatment developed by Newcastle scientists

MPs will debate mitochondrial replacement therapy and public safety issues surrounding the controversial technique

Professor Doug Turnbull who is leading a team of researchers at Newcastle University to find a cure for the genetic condition Mitochondrial disease
Professor Doug Turnbull who is leading a team of researchers at Newcastle University to find a cure for the genetic condition Mitochondrial disease

MPS will today debate whether to allow a controversial fertility treatment developed in the North East which could wipe out serious inherited diseases.

Experts at Newcastle University have developed a pioneering fertility technique which allows the successful transfer of DNA between two human eggs.

It is the first time such a system – dubbed three-parent IVF – has been used and the landmark project has the potential to help eradicate inherited disorders known as mitochondrial diseases, which affect around one in 5,000 people the UK.

MPs will debate the issue of mitochondrial replacement therapy and public safety issues surrounding the technique in the House of Commons today.

Sharon and Neil Bernardi, of Springwell, Sunderland, have lost all seven children to mitochondrial disease, the majority dying within just a few hours of being born.

Their son Edward, who suffered from Leigh’s disease, became the oldest person in the world to survive the condition before he died at the age of 21.

Mrs Bernardi has a heart defect and mobility problems caused by an inherited mitochondrial disorder. She said she very much welcomed the IVF technique and urged MPs to support the process to ensure other families do not go through the devastation that she and her husband have had to deal with.

The 48-year-old said: “I don’t think I can express enough the pain I go through every day. If this goes through, it could prevent children dying of these diseases altogether.

“If this goes through Parliament, it would be brilliant for people. This is a guarantee that babies would not be affected. We are urging MPs to vote for it and put it through.”

Sharon Bernardi pictured with her son Edward, who suffered from Leighs disease, and died at the age of 21
Sharon Bernardi pictured with her son Edward, who suffered from Leighs disease, and died at the age of 21

If the House of Commons motion is passed, then it will mean the UK is a further step forward to becoming the first country to allow the contentious technique.

It is expected that a full debate in both houses of Parliament will be held later this year.

Mitochondrial diseases are passed on by the mother and the new technique would reduce the risk of transmission of these life-limiting disorders. This would allow a mother to give birth to a healthy child and eliminate mitochondrial diseases from the family line.

Mitochondrial diseases include muscular weakness, blindness, fatal heart failure, liver failure, learning disability and diabetes and can lead to death in early infancy.

The 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 back 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. Only 0.05% of DNA is from the female donor.

Prof Doug Turnbull, director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research at Newcastle University is leading the groundbreaking treatment.

He previously said: “Mitochondrial DNA disease runs in families and there is no cure. The techniques we are working on could help hundreds of women have healthy children.”

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