Doctors at Newcastle Fertility Centre have been granted the first UK licence to use mitochondrial donation as a fertility treatment to prevent the inheritance of mitochondrial disease.
The technique, which involves the creation of an embryo derived from the mother, father and a healthy female mitochondrial donor, was approved for clinical use by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in December 2016, but the Newcastle group is the first to have a licence approved by the regulator.
Professor Sir Doug Turnbull, Director of the Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research at Newcastle said: 'We are delighted by today's decision as it paves the way offering mitochondrial donation as part of an NHS-funded package of care for families affected by mitochondrial disease.
Mitochondrial donation is used when a mother is at risk of transmitting a mitochondrial disease to any naturally-conceived offspring. To prevent the inheritance of faulty mitochondria in the mother's egg, the nuclear material is removed after fertilisation and placed into a fertilised donor egg which contains healthy mitochondria, and implanted to develop as a healthy fetus.
The Newcastle centre anticipates treating up to 25 women per year who are at a very high risk of transmitting mitochondrial disease, which is often debilitating and often fatal. Consequently, they are looking for healthy women under the age of 35 who would be willing to donate their eggs.
The HFEA granted the licence after Newcastle Fertility Centre put forward an application proving that it had the high-quality equipment, staff and expertise to offer mitochondrial donation, particularly considering the fertility technique was developed by scientists in Newcastle.
Many influential members of the scientific community have spoken out, praising the HFEA's decision. Dr Simon Fishel, managing director of CARE Fertility, told The Telegraph: 'This is excellent news, especially for those patients in the UK who have been waiting for this opportunity… it is indeed a step in the right direction following in-depth debate and consideration of all issues from the medical science to the ethics.'
Dr Meenakshi Choudhary, head of the mitochondrial donor programme at Newcastle Fertility Centre, also added: 'Women of the northeast who donated their eggs for the pre-clinical research deserve a special mention, without whom we would not have been able to see it reach this milestone.'