Mitochondrial donation is an IVF technique that gives families affected by mitochondrial disease the chance of having healthy children.
It involves taking the DNA out of a woman’s egg that has faulty mitochondria (the ‘batteries’ that give all our cells their energy), and transferring it to a donor egg with healthy mitochondria.
On this page
We actively support mitochondrial donation and have driven legislative change to ensure this cutting-edge technique can be used in clinics for the benefit of patients.
As a result of our work, and the work of others, the UK Parliament voted in support of mitochondrial donation in February 2015.
Since October 2015, mitochondrial donation has been licensed and regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority for clinical use in the UK.
What we’re doing
Why does mitochondrial donation matter?
- Approximately 1 in 200 children in the UK are born with faulty mitochondrial DNA.
- While many people have mild or no symptoms, around 1 in 6,500 may develop more serious mitochondrial disorders.
- In many families, mitochondrial disease affects multiple family members.
- The disease can occur at a young age and lead to disability and death. Currently there is no cure.
Exploring the policy issues
For more than a decade, we’ve worked to engage with the public, parliamentarians and others about mitochondrial disease and donation.
We’ve provided opportunities for people to explore the techniques and their implications through events and communications.
Our partners have included biomedical and social scientists, ethicists and biomedical research and patient charities.
Providing long-term funding
We’ve provided long-term funding to establish and support researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research at Newcastle University who pioneered the donation technique.
We'll continue to consider applications for research funding related to these technologies.
Timeline of key dates
Our timeline sets out the key dates which led to the licensing of mitochondrial donation.
- The Chief Medical Officers’s expert group report, Stem Cell Research: Medical Progress with Responsibility, recognises the future potential use of mitochondrial donation.
- Researchers at Newcastle University obtain a research licence to work with human oocytes to explore mitochondrial donation techniques.
- The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee publishes an extensive report, Human Reproductive Technologies and the Law, which supports further research in the area.
- The government passes The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, allowing researchers to develop techniques to prevent transmission of maternally inherited mitochondrial disease.
- Researchers at Newcastle University develop mitochondrial donation techniques to prevent diseased mitochondria being passed from mother to child.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority convenes an Expert Scientific Review panel to assess the effectiveness and safety of mitochondrial donation.
- The Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research, based at Newcastle University, is established with the aim of developing a programme of basic and clinical mitochondrial disease research.
- The Nuffield Council on Bioethics publishes a report, Novel techniques for the prevention of mitochondrial DNA disorders.
- The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority launches a public consultation exploring mitochondrial donation.
- The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority runs a series of public dialogue events across the UK.
- The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority publishes a report on their public consultation and updated scientific review, which concludes that mitochondrial donation techniques have potential to be used if safety and efficacy are refined, and that the public are broadly supportive.
- The Department of Health and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority state that draft regulations to permit mitochondrial donation will be issued later in 2013, then taken to further public consultation.
Press coverage from 2014
Three-person babies 'in two years' - says science review
BBC News, 3 June 2014
Three parent babies are 'not unsafe' as human trials planned
The Telegraph, 3 June 2014
Genetic treatment using three-parent embryo may be ready in two years
The Guardian, 3 June 2014
Beware alarmists warning of slippery slopes
The Times, 14 July 2014
Procedure to create babies with three people’s DNA could be legalised in April
The Guardian, 22 July 2014
Three-parent IVF ‘will stop diseases being inherited’
The Times, 25 August 2014
UK could be first country to allow three person embryos
BBC News, 17 December 2014
- The Department of Health publishes draft regulations for mitochondrial donation. A public consultation is launched for three months.
- The House of Commons holds an adjournment debate.
- A favourable evaluation of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s public dialogue and consultation is published.
- The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority releases its third scientific review of the safety and efficacy of mitochondrial donation. It reports that there is no evidence to suggest either technique is unsafe and both have potential to be used to prevent serious mitochondrial disease.
- The Department of Health publishes the government’s response to the public consultation on draft mitochondrial donation regulations.
- The House of Commons holds a backbenchers debate on mitochondrial donation.
- The government publishes the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Regulations 2015.
Press coverage from 2015
Professor Robert Winston: Don’t let science fall victim to ignorance on DNA transfer IVF
The Telegraph, 1 February 2015
Three parent baby technique no more sinister than blood transfusion
The Telegraph Leader, 1 February 2015
Matt Ridley: The Church is wrong on ‘three parent’ babies
The Times, 2 February 2015
Parliament should approve regulations for mitochondrial donation
The Guardian, 30 January 2015
Three person IVF
The Times, 28 January 2015
- In the House of Lords peers vote by 280 to 48 in support of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Regulations 2015.
- In the House of Commons MPs vote by 382 to 128 to pass the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Regulations 2015.
- The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Regulations 2015 come into effect.
- The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority publishes provisions for licensing mitochondrial donation.
Published in the journal Nature, scientists at the Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research report the first in-depth analysis of human embryos created using a new technique designed to reduce the risk of mothers passing on mitochondrial disease to their children.
Scientists at the Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research develop a new genetic test for mitochondrial disease which can provide results in 2-3 days.
An independent expert panel convened by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to undertake a review of mitochondrial donation techniques, recommends cautious adoption of the techniques in the clinic.
- The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority agree that clinics can now apply for a licence to carry out mitochondrial donation treatment.
Researchers in Newcastle are given the first UK licence to carry out mitochondrial donation treatment.
- Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Regulations 2015 debate [PDF 124KB] – read our consultation response.
- Healing Broken Batteries – a short film by the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research.
- Mitochondrial donation FAQs [PDF 817KB] – we explain what mitochondrial disease is and how it can be prevented.
- Mitochondrial donation: our quick summary [PDF 52KB]
- What is mitochondrial disease? An overview by the Lily Foundation.
- Mitochondrial donation: an introductory briefing note by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.
If you have any questions, contact Sam Alvis