LONDON, U.K., March 16, 2011 ( – A new “three-parent IVF” technology developed in Britain has been sent to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority for review.  With government approval and a change in Britain’s fertility laws, scientists hope the new method may be introduced in just over a year.

The controversial technique was developed by scientists at Newcastle University using cloning methods to remove faulty DNA during the fertilization process, thereby in theory preventing certain incurable fatal diseases of the heart, liver and brain in the newly “created” child.  The method uses sperm and egg from the “real” parents, as well as some DNA from a donor mother.

The researchers say that the child created through the method would inherit 98 percent of their DNA from their “real” parents. 

Unlike the vast majority of DNA in the body, which comes from both the mother and father, the faulty mitochondrial DNA that causes the diseases in question comes only through the mother.  The process thus involves fertilizing the primary mother’s egg with the father’s sperm in a lab, and then transplanting the parents’ DNA, without the mother’s mitochondrial DNA, into a new egg from the donor mother that has all DNA removed, except the healthy mitochondrial DNA. 

The embryo is then implanted into the primary mother and the new baby has DNA from three parents.

In developing the process, scientists used a variation of the technique used to make Dolly the cloned sheep in 1996.  “A child born using this method would have correctly functioning mitochondria,” said lead author of the original study, Professor Doug Turnbull, “but in every other respect would get all their genetic information from their father and mother.”

“As doctors we have a duty to treat disease and where possible to prevent disease,” said Professor Alison Murdoch, head of the Department of Reproductive Medicine at Newcastle University. “With diseases for which there are no treatments the imperative to develop new treatments is even greater. Of course no treatment is ever risk free and if there are risks we will need to quantify these so that doctors can discuss them with patients.”

Health Minister Andrew Lansley asked the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to review the technology last week “to assess the effectiveness and safety” of the technique, which is currently not permitted under British law. 

The process of investigation may take up to a year.  “When the group reports back and based on the evidence available, we can decide whether it is the right time to consider making these (new) regulations,” a spokeswoman told Reuters.

Scientists say there is “no guarantee” they will have the evidence to gain a license.  “We need to anticipate that we may have and prepare accordingly,” said Murdoch.

However, more insurmountable for the researchers will be the host of ethical, in addition to the safety, concerns. 

Critics point out that IVF produces its “miracle babies” only through a process that results in the death of many human embryos, and have also pointed out to the numerous other unknowns involved in the process. 

Dr. David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, told the Daily Mail that in his view doctors cross the line when they tamper with human genetics using methods such as the new three-parent IVF.  “Up to now there has been a consensus that we should not manipulate human DNA in this way,” he said.

“It is altering the genetic constituents of every cell in the child’s body. If it’s a girl, then those changes will be passed down to all her descendants. The first children conceived using this technique will be an experiment.”

There are also concerns about long-term health complications for IVF babies. Studies in the UK in recent years reveal that children conceived through IVF methods suffer from nearly twice as many health problems as those conceived naturally.


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