London: Couples who cannot have a baby due to certain genetic illnesses can now smile, as they will soon be able to have children through “three-parent” fertility treatments designed to eradicate incurable genetic diseases, after a British medical ethics panel called the practice “ethical”- provided research shows they are likely to be safe and effective.
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics said the treatments - which have become known as three-parent in vitro fertilization (IVF) because the offspring have genes from a mother, father and from a female donor - should be offered to affected families together with full information and expert support.
“If these treatments are successful, these children would be among the first in the world to have a genetic connection to not two people, but three people,” said Geoff Watts, who chaired a Nuffield inquiry into the issue. “There are a number of ethical questions that arise and needed to be considered.”
While the British medical ethics panel has given a go ahead, pro-life campaigners called the potential treatments dangerous.
Around one in 6,500 children worldwide are born with serious diseases caused by faulty mitochondrial DNA. Faulty mitochondria can lead to a range of inherited conditions like fatal heart problems, liver failure, brain disorders, blindness and muscular weakness.
Thus, the new potential treatments involve intervening the fertilization process to remove faulty mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondria are sausage-shaped powerhouses which float around inside the cells converting food into energy that the body can use.
Still at the research stage, the treatments effectively swap mitochondria, so a baby does not inherit faults from its mother. Mitochondria are only passed down the maternal line.
“If further research shows these techniques to be sufficiently safe and effective, we think it would be ethical for families to use them ... provided they receive an appropriate level of information and support,” said Watts.
Speaking at a briefing about the inquiry’s conclusions, he said the new treatments could offer significant health and social benefits to affected families, allowing them to live “free from what can be very severe and debilitating disorders” and to have children without needing to adopt.
“This is a way in which parents can have children who are genetically related to them,” Watts said. “And the descendants of any woman born via these therapies should inherit healthy mitochondria and be free of mitochondrial disorders.”
With Agency inputs