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UK scientists seek trial of 'mitochondria-boosting' IVF technique

01 February 2016

By Ryan Ross

Appeared in BioNews 837

UK fertility doctors are seeking permission to trial a new IVF treatment that involves transferring additional mitochondria into egg cells before fertilisation.

Care Fertility, a clinic based in Nottingham, has applied to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) for a licence to conduct a trial involving around 20 IVF patients using the technique, known as Augment.

The trial would see doctors inject mitochondria taken from cells elsewhere in the ovary into the patients' eggs. They hope that, in doing so, they can 'rejuvenate' the eggs to increase the success rate of IVF.

Care Fertility director Professor Simon Fishel told the Independent: 'There is a body of scientific evidence suggesting that the mitochondria of eggs from some patients – those over 37, those previously shown to have poor-quality embryos after IVF – is part of the problem in getting viable embryos for such patients.'

The Augment technique involves replenishing the mitochondria in the eggs with those taken from egg precursor cells – a type of stem cell found in small numbers on the outside of the ovary.

'Previous scientific studies have shown that donor mitochondria in such cases gives better quality and therefore more viable embryos with higher chances of pregnancy,' said Professor Fishel.

Doctors hope that the procedure will eventually benefit women, typically in their thirties and forties, with low-quality eggs. If the procedure is successful, it would also obviate the need for egg donors and allow women to have a genetically related child.

However fertility researchers have reacted cautiously to news of the HFEA application.

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, HFEA adviser and a specialist at the Crick Institute in London, expressed doubts over the basic science underpinning the procedure, which was developed by US startup OvaScience.

He said it is still unclear whether germline stem cells actually exist within adult ovaries. This notion challenges a longstanding dogma that women are born with a full complement of eggs cells that mature as they grow older.

'My view based on the science is that it's difficult to believe,' he told the Independent.

'There is lots of evidence to suggest there are no germline stem cells remaining in the ovaries of mice, certainly from a week after birth. There is certainly no good evidence in any animal model that there are germline stem cells that actually give rise to oocytes.'

Professor Lovell-Badge said that some experts are sceptical about the Augment technique. 'They [OvaScience] are charging at lot of money to do it and there is not much evidence that it does anything. They may have some information claiming to show that it does, but I've not seen this.'

If the licence is granted, Care Fertility could begin testing the mitochondrial-transfer procedure before the end of the year. Professor Fishel's team would be the first to trial the procedure in the UK. Other trials are already taking place in Turkey, Dubai and Canada but is not being used in the USA after the Food and Drug Administration told OvaScience it would treat the technique as a novel drug.

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

04 July 2016 - by Dr Katie Howe 
Researchers have identified a gene that, when activated, causes mitochondria inherited from sperm to be destroyed shortly after fertilisation...
25 April 2016 - by Dr Julia Hill 
A study has found that stem cells from older people accumulate high numbers of mitochondrial DNA mutations, which could limit their therapeutic value...
29 February 2016 - by Kulraj Singh Bhangra 
Researchers in the USA have shown that 'squishing' an egg within hours of fertilisation can indicate how healthy and viable it is...

11 January 2016 - by Dr Cathy Herbrand 
We report from the second session of the annual conference of the Progress Educational Trust, titled 'From Three-Person IVF to Genome Editing: the Science and the Ethics of Engineering the Embryo', about the newly legalised process of mitochondrial donation...
02 November 2015 - by Dr Katie Howe 
Regulations that came into force this week will enable the UK to be the first country in the world to allow the use of mitochondrial donation techniques during IVF...
26 October 2015 - by Jessica Richardson 
A test which measures mitochondrial DNA levels in the embryo could help increase IVF success rates, scientists claim...
27 April 2015 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
A gene-editing technique that may prevent mutated mitochondrial DNA from being passed down from mother to child has shown success in an animal study...
02 March 2015 - by Sandy Starr 
The House of Lords has voted by 280 to 48 to pass regulations permitting mitochondrial donation. This makes the UK the first country in the world to legislate for the use of mitochondrial donation techniques in treatment...

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Published by the Progress Educational Trust

CROSSING FRONTIERS

Public Conference
London
8 December 2017

Speakers include

Professor Azim Surani

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge

Sally Cheshire

Professor Guido Pennings

Katherine Littler

Professor Allan Pacey

Dr Sue Avery

Professor Richard Anderson

Dr Elizabeth Garner

Dr Andy Greenfield

Dr Anna Smajdor

Dr Henry Malter

Vivienne Parry

Dr Helen O'Neill

Dr César Palacios-González

Philippa Taylor

Fiona Fox

Sarah Norcross

Sandy Starr


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