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‘Three Parent IVF’ Approved in UK

a blog by HRC Fertility, March 28, 2013

The HFEA (the independent regulator for IVF treatment and embryo research in the UK) has now agreed on the acceptable ethics and science of new IVF-based techniques designed to avoid serious mitochondrial diseases.

In January 2012, the British Government asked the HFEA to use its experience of public engagement on controversial scientific developments to collect the general view on mitochondria replacement. It also asked for updated advice on the safety and efficacy of this potential treatment.

The concept of mitochondrial transfer is not new. This technique has been considered by reproductive experts since at least 2004 when it was the subject of a review article by PRC’s Eric Scott Sills published in the journal Medical Hypotheses. Around 1 in 200 children are born each year with a form of mitochondrial disease. Some children have mild or no symptoms, while others can be severely affected and have reduced life expectancy. Symptoms include muscle weakness, intestinal disorders and heart disease.

During its public meetings last year, the HFEA found broad support for mitochondria replacement being made available to families at risk of passing on a serious mitochondrial disease. The HFEA also agreed to advise Government that, should Regulations be drafted to permit the technique, the following policies and safeguards should be put into place:
Clinics wishing to offer mitochondria replacement should be specifically licensed by the HFEA to do so.

The HFEA should approve each use of mitochondria replacement, though Regulations should provide the flexibility to modify this in the future. IVF clinics should also ensure that follow-up research on the children born takes place.

Mitochondria donors should be thought of as a kind of tissue donor: the resulting child should not have a right to identifying information about the donor, although information exchange and contact could be arranged locally by mutual consent.

A further assessment of the safety and efficacy should be commissioned by the HFEA once a clinic has submitted an application to carry out one of the techniques.

Professor Lisa Jardine, chair of the HFEA, noted “The Government has asked us to take the public temperature on this important and emotive issue and that is what we’ve done. We’ve found that there is broad support for permitting mitochondria replacement, to give families at risk of mitochondrial disease the chance of having a healthy child. Although some people have concerns about the safety of these techniques, we found that they trust the scientific experts and the regulator to know when it is appropriate to make them available to patients.”

The HFEA will now formally pass the advice to the Government, which will decide whether or not to seek Parliamentary permission to allow mitochondria replacement in treatment.


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