The UK has now become the first country in the world to approve the IVF treatment known as Mitochondrial Donation or Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy. This treatment allows women who have faulty mitochondrial DNA, that contain life threatening diseases, to give birth to healthy babies. This means that the baby will inherit 0.1% of their DNA from the donor women and so technically will have three parents.
Mitochondria are tiny structures within each of our cells that are passed down only by the mother, and are responsible for converting food in energy. Faulty mitochondria reduce the cell’s ability to function properly, this can lead to life threatening conditions such as poor vision, diabetes and muscle wasting.
How Mitochondrial Donation Works:
In 2012 the HFEA (Human Fertilisation Embryology Authority) carried out a survey to assess the public’s attitudes towards the procedure. This involved conducting face to face interviews with almost 1000 people and found that over half were ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ positive about the treatment.
Those that opposed argued that this type of procedure opens the doors to “designer babies”, allowing babies to be genetically modified for beauty and intelligence or to be free of disease. The Catholic and Anglican churches also say Mitochondrial Donation is unethical as well as unsafe. However, the HFEA have published three reports which conclude that there is no evidence to suggest that mitochondrial donation is unsafe. [Review 1, review 2, review 3]
Alana Saarinen was conceived using Mitochondrial Donation through a pioneering infertility treatment in the USA which was later banned. She is one of 30 – 50 people in the world that have three biological parents, now in her teens; she has showed no ill effects as a result.
If plans go ahead, the first three-person baby in the UK could be born next year.