The Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has today launched a public consultation to gather people’s views about the social and ethical impact of new techniques to prevent mitochondrial diseases being passed down the maternal line.
The techniques are being developed by Professor Doug Turnbull and colleagues at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research at Newcastle University, which was opened on 11 September. They involve transferring nuclear DNA, which contains our genetic make-up, between two human eggs to replace defective mitochondria - the 'batteries' that power the cells in our bodies.
When these batteries fail, patients can develop devastating mitochondrial diseases with symptoms that often affect those tissues most heavily dependent on energy, such as the heart, muscles and brain.
The techniques have already been shown to work in the laboratory, but in a review of the scientific evidence, the HFEA last year requested further experiments to assess their safety before they can be safely and acceptably used in clinics for patients. While this work is being undertaken, the HFEA is consulting the public about its views on these potentially controversial techniques.
Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, says: "The work of Professor Turnbull and colleagues holds great promise for preventing previously incurable diseases and giving families affected by these diseases the chance to have healthy children, something most of us take for granted. The HFEA consultation provides an important opportunity for us to discuss with the public why we believe this technique is essential and to listen to any concerns they may have."
Details of the consultation can be found on the HFEA website.