The United Kingdom's fertility regulator gave a cautious go-ahead on Thursday to the in-vitro fertilisation of human eggs carrying genetic material from three parents in a bid to avoid children inheriting terrible diseases and also to protect future generations.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority gave the green light to the treatment using DNA from three progenitors (two women, one man) to prevent children being born with deadly genetic illnesses, EFE news reported.
“Today's historic decision means that parents at very high risk of having a child with a life-threatening mitochondrial disease may soon have the chance of a healthy, genetically related child,” said HFEA chairwoman Sally Cheshire.
The therapy is called “mitochondrial replacement therapy” whereby a mother's egg nucleus with damaged mitochondria is removed and inserted into a donor's egg with healthy mitochondria.
Then, the donor egg with the mother's nucleus is fertilised by the father's sperm.
Finally the fertilised ovum, with the genetic material from both women, donor and mother, is inserted in the mother's womb following standard IVF techniques.
Some 3,000 women are expected to qualify for the treatment.
Mitochondria are rod-shaped “engines” that drive human cells.
They are responsible for energy production and for the regulation of cellular metabolism.
A malfunction at this level can provoke innumerable, catastrophic and life-threatening effects in vital organs, muscles, growth, sight, or mental capacity, among others.
The British authority approved this controversial measure — some critics considered the process had been authorised in haste to avoid the birth of children suffering from otherwise incurable, hereditary diseases.
The procedure, however, will require prior assessment and licensing by the HFEA of all specialist IVF clinics that wish to offer the treatment.
Even then, the HFEA will have to authorise each individual case before treatment can proceed.
“We feel now is the right time to carefully introduce this new treatment in the limited circumstances recommended by the panel,” Cheshire said.
“This is life-changing for those families,” she added.