New ‘three-parent baby’ technique investigated

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Experts are due to investigate a new method of creating ‘three-parent babies’ which would offer more safety and effectiveness than the current methods currently being tested in laboratories in Britain.

The fertility regulator was requested, by the Government, to investigate new research from China, which uses a less invasive method of this IVF technique.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has published a report on this research, describing it as ‘promising’ and stated that it ‘may offer potential advantages’ over the current techniques, including an increase in the chances that the baby would be born without inherited diseases.

A panel has asked for studies to be undertaken to assess the extent of the reality of the potential advantages.

The timing of the report is vital as the Government is set to go ahead with legislation which could result in the UK being the first country globally to genetically create babies from three biological parents. There has been strong opposition regarding safety and ethical concerns.

Many families and scientists have supported the method, but a large number of critics state that the process would be crossing an ethical line as it manipulates DNA that will be passed on to several generations.

UK legislation is expected to be presented to Parliament within a few weeks, with a possible vote due during early January.

The aim of the legislation is to create babies who are born without serious inherited diseases.

One of the methods currently on trial in UK laboratories involves obtaining genetic material from the inside of the mother’s egg and transferring it into a healthy donated egg from another woman, which is free from faulty DNA. This produced egg will then be fertilised by the sperm of the father, resulting in a baby with genetics from both parent, and a small amount from the donor.

The new research from China takes genetic material from the outside layer of the mother’s egg, instead of the inside. This is a less invasive method called Polar Body Transfer (PBT). This method could reduce the level of ‘bad’ mitochondria which may be transferred to the healthy egg, and reduce the potential level of damage caused to the genetic material during the transfer.

The UK research will be undertaken by Professor Doug Turnbull, a neurologist, and his team at Newcastle University.

Professor Turnbull said the method appears to have three main advantages. He said there is less damage caused, the polar bodies have already formed into a structure which allows for the chromosomes to be seen and because there are few mitochondria inside, it reduces the risk of being transferred.

He added that this is in its initial stages and the techniques that have been used have been around for much longer and they have more confidence in those. He said this experimental new technique has not been covered by legislation.

He stated that if the legislation is passed, he and his team hope to apply for licence to do the treatment during 2015. However, he has warned of further delays as they are not sure what the requirements are for a licence to be obtained.

Image Credit: Solis Invicti

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