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Expert panel approve cautious use of mitochondrial donation in the UK

05 December 2016

By Dr Julia Hill

Appeared in BioNews 880

Scientists advising the HFEA have recommended that the technique of mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT) be approved for clinical use in the UK. 

Professor Sir Doug Turnbull, a researcher of mitochondrial disease at Newcastle University who has pioneered MRT, said: 'This is obviously great news and I agree with the report conclusions. This gives women who have mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations reproductive choice, and I am delighted for them.'

The report concluded that 'it is appropriate to offer mitochondrial donation techniques as clinical risk reduction treatment for carefully selected patients'. MRT was legalised in the UK in 2015 (see BioNews 826), but with the provision that HFEA must find it safe before granting any licences, which led to the commission of this report.

MRT involves removing the nucleus from an egg cell of the mother and transferring it to a donor egg with healthy mitochondria, from which the nucleus has already been removed. This donor egg, containing genetic material from two women, is then fertilised using the father's sperm, resulting in a so-called 'three-parent embryo'.

The HFEA will decide at a meeting on 15 December whether to allow clinical trials of the therapy. If they decide in favour of mitochondrial donation, then the first procedures may be carried out in March or April 2017, according to an HFEA spokesman. The Newcastle Fertility Centre have already selected patients they believe to be suitable and are waiting to apply for a licence to carry out the procedure.

However, a paper published last week has reinforced concerns that the technique may not always prevent mitochondrial disease. Professor Shoukrat Milatipov and colleagues at the Oregon Health and Science University created embryos using MRT and tested their levels of donor versus defective mitochondria. The embryos themselves were virtually free of any defective mitochondria but, in some embryonic stem cell lines made from the embryos, the original defective mitochondria came back. This raises concerns that children born through MRT could develop mitochondrial diseases later in life.

'We know that the technique [of MRT] is currently imperfect,' said Dr David J Clancy, a mitochondrial researcher at Lancaster University. '[These] results suggest that reversion to the original mtDNA type could occur as often as one in six times. What proportion of children who inherit mitochondrial disease as a result of the therapy is considered a safe number?'

Mitochondrial donation has been developed as a technique to help women with mitochondrial diseases conceive healthy babies – mitochondria are solely inherited from the mother, so women who have mitochondrial diseases will pass them directly to their children. Mitochondrial diseases include a wide variety of conditions such as Leigh's syndrome and MELAS syndrome, and they can be fatal. Around one in 10,000 births have some form of mitochondrial disease. 

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

25 September 2017 - by Jenny Sharpe 
A campaign has been launched in Australia to overturn laws preventing couples from accessing mitochondrial donation...
03 April 2017 - by Helen Robertson 
Details of the world's first successful use of mitochondrial replacement therapy in IVF have been published...
20 March 2017 - by Georgia Everett 
Doctors at Newcastle Fertility Centre have been granted the first UK licence to use mitochondrial replacement therapy as a fertility treatment to prevent the inheritance of mitochondrial disease...
23 January 2017 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
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19 December 2016 - by Annabel Slater 
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31 October 2016 - by Georgia Everett 
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17 October 2016 - by Ayala Ochert 
Two women in the Ukraine are pregnant with babies conceived through mitochondrial donation as a treatment for infertility, according to a report in New Scientist...
03 October 2016 - by Dr Julia Hill 
In a world first, the birth of a baby boy who was conceived using mitochondrial donation has been reported...
28 September 2016 - by César Palacios González 
Dr John Zhang's team have opened a new door in terms of reproductive possibilities, but they may very well be instrumental in closing the assisted reproductive door for many people in Mexico...
11 July 2016 - by Dr Julia Hill 
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Published by the Progress Educational Trust

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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

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