Developing

IVF: Ruling Due On 'Three-Parent' Babies

The possibility of creating a baby from three parents will move a step closer today if fertility watchdog the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) gives the idea the green light.

Scientists at Newcastle University are developing the technique to stop mitochondrial defects, which can kill, from being passed on from a mother to her children.

The HFEA is due to release the results of a public consultation and advise the government on whether or not to change the law to allow the first three-parent baby to be born.

Although the science is complex, the idea behind the technique is simple.

Mitochondria, the batteries inside every cell in a person's body, come from the egg cell, so if a woman has defective mitochondria they will be passed on to her child.

The team at Newcastle can take the DNA out of the egg after fertilisation and put it into a healthy donor egg which has had everything removed apart from healthy mitochondria.

But mitochondria contain a tiny amount of DNA and the baby would inherit 0.2% of its DNA from the donor egg.

Doug Turnbull, Professor of Neurology at Newcastle University, is in no doubt that his team is performing valuable work.

"What we should be doing is trying to help families, and women in particular, have healthy children," he said.

"I think it should be up to the mothers that carry these (mitochondrial) mutations to chose what sort of reproductive options they would like to have."

Nicola Bardett, 34, is one of the mothers who wants the law to be changed to allow Professor Turnbull's research to be used in humans.

The defective mitochondria in her family killed her mother and has made many relatives ill and she worries about the effect it will have on her four-year-old son.

"For a lot of them it's a waiting game to see what illness is going to come from the mitochondrial defect," she explained.

"This new technique to wipe out mitochondrial disease is going to stop so much suffering and so much heartbreak I can't see how it could be anything but a good thing," she added.

David King, from the independent group Human Genetics Alert, has campaigned against the new technique, describing it as highly dangerous.

"Since there is a safe alternative option in these cases, standard egg donation, the minor benefit of satisfying the mother's wish to be genetically related cannot justify the risks that the techniques create for the child or to society," he said.