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February 27, 2014

Genomics News
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» Consultation on mitochondrial donation published by Department of Health

The Department of Health has published a consultation  on draft regulations regarding mitochondrial donation. The consultation seeks the views of stakeholders and the wider public about draft regulations to allow newly developed treatment techniques to prevent the transfer of a … Continue reading

August 28, 2009

Genomics News
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» Genetic advance raises IVF hopes

Researchers have found a potential way to correct an inherited disorder affecting thousands of women the BBC health news webpages report this week.

Working on monkeys, they transferred genetic material needed to create a baby from a defective egg to a healthy one, resulting in healthy births. The US work, featured in the journal Nature, raises hopes of a treatment enabling women with defective eggs to have a child without using donor eggs. However, the child would have a small number of genes from a “third parent”. The treatment would involve so-called “germ line” genetic changes which would be passed down through generations. The genetic fault is contained in structures in the egg called the mitochondria, which are involved in maintaining the egg’s internal processes. If an egg with faulty mitochondria is fertilised the resulting child could have any of hundreds of different diseases including anaemia, dementia, hypertension and a range of neurological disorders.

US researchers have previously tried and failed to correct this defect by adding healthy donated mitochondria into the eggs of patients wishing to have children. But these attempts resulted in birth defects – probably because mitochondria are so delicate that they are damaged when they are transplanted from one egg to another. As a result, the treatment was banned by the US until it could be demonstrated that it was safe in animal experiments. A group at the Oregon Health and Science University has now done just that. They transferred the DNA needed to make a baby out of monkey eggs, leaving behind the potentially diseased genes in the mitochondria. This was transplanted it into eggs emptied of DNA but containing healthy mitochondria. The technique resulted in three healthy births with no sign of any birth defects.

Whilst these findings have the potential to benefit many women with pathogenic mitochondrial DNA mutations, they will undoubtedly raise many ethical issues, particularly surrounding egg manipulation

In the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has licensed a number of tightly-controlled research projects into mitochondrial diseases. But Parliament would have to change the law to allow the technique to be used on patients.