WIKIMEDIA, KENNY LOUIEWeeks after the UK House of Commons voted in favor of allowing fertility clinics to employ in vitro fertilization (IVF) methods called mitochondrial replacement techniques to produce embryos with genetic material from three parents, the House of Lords followed suit yesterday (February 24), approving changes to existing laws that will allow the techniques.
Mitochondrial replacement uses ooctyes from two women and sperm from one man, and can be used to create offspring with reduced chances of inheriting mitochondrial disorders from their parents. “Families who know what it is like to care for a child with a devastating disease are the people best placed to decide whether mitochondrial donation is the right option for them,” Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, told The Guardian. “Parliament is to be commended for a considered and compassionate decision to give these families that choice, with proper safeguards under the U.K.’s internationally-admired regulatory system.”
Britain is the first country to permit the treatment, which was developed by scientists at the Newcastle University. Now, the U.K.’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) will decide how to license the procedure. The licensing process will consider each case of three-person IVF individually, weighing ethical and technical issues involved in each. “The HFEA has a long tradition of dealing with medical and scientific breakthroughs, ensuring that IVF techniques, pioneered in the UK and now practiced across the world, can be used safely and effectively in fertility treatment,” HFEA chair Sally Cheshire told BBC News.
The decision was not without its critics. “Unlike experimental gene therapies where risks are taken on by consenting individuals, these techniques turn children into our biological experiments and forever alter the human germline in unknowable ways. There is no precedent for this,” Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, which has argued against approval of the technique, told Science. “We call on those who have supported moving forward with these techniques to make it clear that other kinds of inheritable genetic changes remain off-limits.”
The first baby created using mitochondrial replacement could be born in the U.K. as soon as next year.