Peers to vote on triple-DNA babies

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Published: Tuesday 24th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Peers will vote today on historic legislation which would see the UK become the first country in the world to allow creation of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) babies using DNA from three different people.

The chief medical officer for England has urged the House of Lords to approve the amendment to the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act and permit the controversial procedures, aimed at preventing serious inherited mitochondrial diseases.

MPs, including all three main party leaders, voted earlier this month in the Commons to legalise the mitochondrial donation technique, which critics say will lead to “three-parent babies”.

Opponents, including church leaders and pro-life groups, have warned that the change has been brought about too hastily and marked the start of a “slippery slope” towards designer babies and eugenics.

But chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies said: “I want them to consider in the Lords what this is. It’s quite separate from the illegal act of changing DNA in the nucleus.

“It would give these women their own children and these families hope, and I believe this is right.

“We have a very strong regulatory system that would regulate first the service and secondly would review every individual case before they could happen.”

The Government’s most senior health advisor admitted if the treatment fails there would be an increased miscarriage rate, but added that there was “no expectation of that”.

Critics have pointed out no clinical trial has taken place to show conclusively that the treatments are safe in humans.

However, three separate expert reviews for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority found that the procedures are ready to go forward.

Two mitochondrial donation techniques have been developed, both of which involve transplanting a mother’s nuclear DNA into a de-nucleated donor cell.

The mother’s nuclear DNA then sits in a cell whose body material – the cytoplasm – contains healthy mitochondria. From then on, those mitochondria, and their healthy DNA, can be transmitted to future generations, thereby breaking the chain of inherited disease.

The chief difference between the two techniques is that one is carried out before fertilisation and the other after.

Dame Sally said: “The only clinical tests you can do are either in rats, mice and monkeys – and those have been done – or in humans and the mothers now want to do this following those three scientific reviews.

“I wouldn’t call it a test, but the first cases will be scrutinised very carefully.”

She also denied the legislation would lead to a “slippery slope” giving way to the creation of designer babies.

“This is about changing the battery packs, it’s not about touching the chromosomes that make us what we are,” Dame Sally said.

“The nucleus is sacrosanct and it is illegal to touch it.

“There is no debate, nor needs there to be, about touching the chromosome, we are not talking about that, we are talking about mitochondrial transfer.”

The move to amend the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which forbids IVF treatments that affect inherited “germline” DNA in eggs and sperm, was carried by 382 votes to 128 in the Commons earlier this month.

Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg exercised their free vote to support the decision.

Research has shown that mitochondrial donation could potentially help almost 2,500 women of reproductive age in the UK who are at risk of transmitting harmful DNA mutations in the mitochondria.

The child would have “nuclear” DNA determining individual traits such as facial features and personality from its two parents, plus a tiny amount of mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) from an anonymous woman donor.

The first baby conceived with the treatment may be born as early as next year.

Published: Tuesday 24th February 2015 by The News Editor

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