IVF babies with three parents
Britain could become the first country in the world to legalise the creation of babies with three biological parents following a government-commissioned consultation launched yesterday.
Scientists want ministers to give the green light to a controversial fertility treatment that eliminates a host of genetic conditions, such as muscular dystrophy.
The babies would be created by engineering an egg to carry a small sample of healthy DNA from a third biological parent as well as the mother and father.
The technique, being developed by researchers at Newcastle University, involves removing DNA from the nucleus of a woman's egg before fertilisation and implanting it into the "shell" of a donor egg which has had the DNA from its nucleus removed.
The egg is then implanted back into the mother using traditional in vitro fertilisation methods.
By using the "shell" of the second woman's egg, doctors believe they can cut damaged genetic material out of the family line.
The technique is currently forbidden, but ministers have ordered the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to explore the issue and make recommendations on whether the benefits outweigh any ethical concerns.
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, will use the regulator's report - which is expected by the end of the year - to decide whether to give the technique the go-ahead. If he approves, it could become legal as early as next year, making Britain the first country in the world to allow human trials.
Experts that accept the technique, which involves genetically modifying a human egg or embryo, enters "uncharted territory" and raises serious ethical questions.
Although the resulting babies would inherit a tiny fraction of their DNA from the donor, the procedure would spare all future generations from rare and debilitating conditions.
It would not affect how the children look or their characteristics.
But critics said it amounted to "playing around with the building blocks of life."
In addition to the moral implications of engineering embryos, there are questions over how the procedure would affect on a child's sense of identity .
Prof Lisa Jardine, chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said: "We find ourselves in uncharted territory, balancing the desire to help families have healthy children with the possible impact on the children themselves and wider society."
She said that since Louise Brown, the first IVF baby, was born in 1978, IVF has since become commonplace.
She said: "Here, we are going that mile further, which is a genetic modification of the egg. I feel very strongly that once we have genetic modification we have to be damn sure that we are happy, because this is not about us. This is not about our children. It's not even about our grandchildren. It's about many, many generations down the line, what the consequences might be."
About 99.8% of our DNA, including all our visible characteristics, is contained in the cell nucleus and is passed down from our father and mother in equal measure.
The procedure would eliminate defects in the mitochondria, tiny structures which contain just 37 genes, supply power to cells and are inherited solely from the maternal side.
An estimated one in 200 children born in Britain each year is thought to have some form of mitochondrial disease, with defects in anywhere between a handful and 90% of their mitochondria. In the vast majority of cases, where the number of defects is low, there are no symptoms and the condition is never even diagnosed.
But in about one in 6500 people the level of damage causes the development of severe medical conditions including muscular dystrophy and ataxia, a neurological condition affecting balance, co-ordination and speech. - ©The Daily Telegraph