Innovative IVF-based techniques could be made available to patients to help prevent serious mitochondrial disease in the UK, Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies announced today. The decision follows a public consultation in which there was overall support for the treatment, which could save around 10 lives each year.
One in 6,500 babies is born with mitochondrial disorder which can lead to serious problems such as heart and liver disease and respiratory problems. It can even lead to death in infants. Around 12,000 people in the UK live with these conditions, which are passed on from mother to baby but can be prevented using cutting edge mitochondrial replacement techniques. Currently, only unaltered sperms and eggs are allowed to be used for assisted reproduction treatments.
The government intends to publish draft regulations later this year in a public consultation. The regulations, which would be subject to strict safeguards, would make the UK the first country in the world to give patients the option of using the ground-breaking IVF-based treatment. Mitochondria replacement involves transferring nuclear genetic material from a mother’s egg or embryo into a donor egg or embryo that has had its nuclear DNA removed so the embryo does not inherit the mitochondrial disease. This would allow a woman carrying mitochondrial diseases to have healthy children.
In anticipation of emerging advances in this field, in 2008 Parliament passed an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act to introduce a regulating making power that, if introduced, would enable mitochondria replacement to take place in treatment.
Mitochondria are the tiny biological power packs that give energy to nearly every cell of the body. Defects can leave the body cells starved of energy, resulting in muscle weakness, blindness, heart failure and death in the most extreme cases.
The decision to consult on regulations to allow the controversial technique comes after an extensive consultation carried out by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The public consultation exercise indicated that, overall, there was general support for mitochondria replacement to take place, subject to strict safeguards and careful regulation.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said:
“Mitochondrial disease, including heart disease, liver disease, loss of muscle co-ordination and other serious conditions like muscular dystrophy, can have a devastating impact on the people who inherit it. People who have it live with debilitating illness, and women who are affected face passing it on to their children.
“Scientists have developed ground-breaking new procedures which could stop these diseases being passed on, bringing hope to many families seeking to prevent their future children inheriting them. It’s only right that we look to introduce this life-saving treatment as soon as we can.”
The draft regulations will be issued for consultation later this year. The government intends to introduce a final version for debate in Parliament next year.
Posted by Amy Moylan