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Australian Senate endorses mitochondrial donation

2 July 2018
Appeared in BioNews 956

Australia may become the second nation to legalise mitochondrial donation, after its Senate endorsed the so-called 'three-person IVF' technique in a recent report. 

The technique is already legal in the UK and allows women with mitochondrial disease and their partners have genetically related children, without the risk of passing on the condition. 

The report also recommended that access to the appropriate UK authorities be granted to Australian couples seeking treatment, while they wait for the law to be updated. Indeed, the report states that it 'relies on the significant body of evidence gathered during the 12-year process to evaluate and ultimately legalise mitochondrial donation in the UK'.

Mitochondrial disease is a genetic condition that affects the ability of the body's cells to generate energy. Sufferers experience a wide range of symptoms including loss of hearing, diabetes, extreme fatigue, muscle wastage and, in severe forms, it can be fatal.

Mitochondria are found inside our cells and each has a small amount of their own DNA, which is separate from the rest of our genetic material found in the cell nucleus. To avoid passing on the genetic mutations of an affected woman's mitochondria to her child, the healthy nucleus of one of her eggs, fertilised in vitro, is removed and inserted into the denucleated, fertilised egg of a donor who has healthy mitochondria. 

At the moment, two laws prohibit this procedure in Australia, the Research Involving Human Embryos Act and Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction Act. However, the authors of the Senate report state that 'mitochondrial donation is a form of genetic modification that was not envisioned at the time that anti-cloning laws were enacted in Australia'.

Professor Carolyn Sue from the Kolling Institute in Sydney, Australia said that most people with mitochondrial mutation do not know they carry it. 'People who are carrying a mitochondrial DNA mutation may not be affected by it, they may be severely affected by it, they may be only mildly affected by this mutation,' Professor Sue said. 'Patients who carry these mutations may often go undiagnosed, they might be in diabetic clinics or epilepsy clinics or stroke clinics, headache clinics.'

The chief executive officer of the Australian Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, Sean Murray, welcomed the report.  'Mitochondrial donation could become a reality in Australia by amending two federal laws, which are being reviewed by the National Health and Medical Research Council,' Murray said.

'You wouldn't wish mitochondrial disease on your worst enemy, so the prospect of mitochondrial donation is a beacon of hope.'

Science of mitochondrial donation and related matters
Parliament of Australia |  27 June 2018
Senate explores 'three parent babies' and mitochondrial donation
ABC News: Health Report |  25 June 2018
'Three parent baby' IVF technique on track to become legal in Australia
The Sydney Morning Herald |  28 June 2018
'Three-person IVF' one step closer in fight against rare mitochondrial disease
ABC News |  28 June 2018
12 April 2021 - by Dr Julian Koplin 
Australia is on the cusp of legalising mitochondrial donation...
8 February 2021 - by Michaela Chen 
The Australian Parliament is set to have its first conscience vote on legislation allowing access to mitochondrial donation...
29 October 2018 - by Hannah Tippett Simpson 
'Every time somebody decides to have a baby, they're engaging in a game of Russian roulette,' argues  Professor Mary Herbert, a reproductive biologist at the University of Newcastle. Around 60-70 percent of fertilised eggs will never make it to pregnancy. You could see simply being here as a sign that we have beaten the odds...
1 October 2018 - by Dr James Heather 
Two research groups have, for the first time, used genome editing to successfully treat mitochondrial disease in animals...
14 May 2018 - by Dr Owen Schaefer 
Amid international debate on mitochondrial donation, Singapore's Bioethics Advisory Committee has prompted much discussion nationally over the issue...
5 February 2018 - by Dr Sam Sherratt 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has granted permission for doctors to create the UK's first 'three-person' children by mitochondrial donation.
25 September 2017 - by Jenny Sharpe 
A campaign has been launched in Australia to overturn laws preventing couples from accessing mitochondrial donation...
24 April 2017 - by Dr César Palacios-González 
It is not every day that we can examine the details of the first use of a new reproductive technology. But the first live birth of a baby following the use of a mitochondrial replacement technique (MRT) in IVF last year gives a window into just this. The case – with procedures carried out in both the US and Mexico – also raises legal questions...
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