UK Confirms Birth Of First Babies Using Three-person DNA Technique
The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority has confirmed the birth of the first babies in the UK using an experimental technique that combines DNA from three people, aimed at preventing the children from inheriting rare genetic diseases.
The technique was introduced in the UK in 2015 to help women with faulty mitochondria (organelles that generate energy for cells) avoid passing on defects to their offspring.
Genetic defects can cause conditions such as epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, intellectual disabilities and heart problems. Scientists take genetic material from the mother’s egg or embryo and transfer it to a donor egg or embryo that still has healthy mitochondria but lacks the rest of its key DNA.
The fertilized embryo is then implanted in the mother’s womb. The donated egg’s genetic material contributes less than 1% to the child created using this technique. The U.K. fertility regulator said in a statement Wednesday:
Mitochondrial donation treatment offers families with severe inherited mitochondrial illness the possibility of a healthy child.
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The agency said it was still “early days” but it hoped the scientists involved, at Newcastle University, would soon publish details of the treatment.
The UK’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority requires women to obtain approval for mitochondrial donation, with eligibility granted only when there are no other options for avoiding genetic disease.
Some critics argue that safer methods exist, while others fear that the practice could lead to designer babies.
Stem cell expert Robin Lovell-Badge has urged careful monitoring of the babies’ future development to ensure that the technique is effective and safe.
Earlier this year, European scientists published research indicating that the mitochondrial donation technique could lead to genetic disease, as some abnormal mitochondria from the mother’s egg could still be present in the donor’s.
Previous research on a similar technique found that children were healthy as teenagers. The first baby using the technique was born in Mexico by American doctors.