17 September 2012
ByAppeared in BioNews 673
Mitochondria don't normally get much press attention, they like to keep a low profile generating energy in the cells and leave nuclear DNA to grab the headlines. They haven't been able to evade the wily BioNews editors though; mitochondria have featured in more than 160 BioNews headlines. BioNews first wrote about the possibility of preventing inherited mitochondrial disease back in 1999 (reported in BioNews 024).
Mitochondria must have got a new press agent as they started the year with a splash. There was a £5.8m boost for mitochondrial disease research from the Wellcome Trust (reported in BioNews 641), the Government tasked the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and Sciencewise with carrying out a public consultation on using emerging techniques designed to prevent mitochondrial disease and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics issued a call for evidence on mitochondrial donation.
This year their press cuttings service must have had to buy an extra pair of scissors – mitochondria even got a mention at the Leveson Inquiry! Last week they made the news again with the official opening of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research, at Newcastle University by Professor Sir Mark Walport (1,2).
Today the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) launched their public consultation (3). The Progress Educational Trust (PET), the UK charity which publishes BioNews, has a longstanding interest in this area. During the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act's passage through Parliament, PET briefed parliamentarians on the advances scientists at the University of Newcastle were making and the potential benefits for the families affected by mitochondrial conditions.
Following the publication of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics Report in June (reported in BioNews 661), which gave the ethical green light to the research, PET decided to find out what people like you thought. So we put a poll on the BioNews website asking:
Should Government allow variations of IVF using genetic material from three people to prevent people from inheriting mitochondrial diseases?
An amazing 793 of you responded. Thank you!
People came to the survey via diverse means - our email newsletter, our website, and the promotional activities of other organisations and people in our orbit. Our 2012 reader survey showed that BioNews is read by people from 40 different countries, from a wide range of professions and with many different areas of interest and many different reasons for reading BioNews. We also know that people read BioNews who are fundamentally opposed to what many would consider to be routine IVF, let alone the techniques involved here.
The poll results don't have the status of scientific findings, by any stretch of the imagination. But the fact that two-thirds of respondents supported and one-third opposed the use of these techniques suggests that public and professional opinion on this issue shouldn't be taken for granted. So if you have views on these techniques and their use then it's important that you respond to the HFEA's consultation (3). Remember that 251 people voted against this research in the BioNews poll and write your response now.
Newspaper editors should be prepared to hold the front page as mitochondria are sure to be hitting the headlines again soon.