UK gives three-parent fertility treatments the green light

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Britain is set to become the first country in the world to legally offer ‘three-parent baby’ fertility treatments after regulators gave the green light, reports The Times.

The technique, which uses DNA from two women and a man, would allow mothers who carry disease-causing mutations in their mitochondrial genes to give birth to children free of the illness.

British lawmakers had voted in February to allow the treatment, which uses in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), but clinics needed to obtain licences from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). HFEA chair Sally Cheshire hailed the “historic and important” decision to license the treatment, calling it “a world first”. “I’m sure patients who might be in line for this treatment will be really pleased by what we’ve decided today,” she said, but added: “We will proceed with caution.”

HFEA member Andrew Greenfield said the board took the decision because the “evidence suggests we should move forward”.

The report says an independent panel of experts last month said the practice should be “cautiously adopted” to prevent certain genetic diseases from being passed on to future generations.

The first baby conceived using mitochondrial donation was born earlier this year in Mexico, where there are no rules on its use, but Britain is the first to officially authorise it. Greenfield said the Mexico birth was “encouraging but only a single case, so let’s not get carried away”.

Opponents have warned that the move paves the way for “designer babies”. Cheshire is quoted in the report as saying that the ruling did not put the ethics of genetics on a “slippery slope”. “We relied on an expert panel of international scientists,” she said. “This is five years…with an extensive pubic dialogue, and a very heavy debate in parliament.”

The treatment involves the embryo receiving the usual “nuclear” DNA from the mother and father, as well as a small amount of healthy mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) from a female donor.

The report says the British review panel recommended its clinical use “in specific circumstances… where inheritance of the disease is likely to cause death or serious disease and where there are no acceptable alternatives.”

Robert Meadowcroft, CEO of charity Muscular Dystrophy, said the decision gave affected parents “new hope and choice for the first time”, but urged caution. “We recognise this approach is not without some uncertainty, and, in any trial, success cannot be guaranteed,” he said.

The report says the treatment remains controversial in Britain and elsewhere, with religious leaders among its detractors. The Roman Catholic Church opposes the move, pointing out that it would involve the destruction of human embryos as part of the process, while the Church of England has said ethical concerns “have not been sufficiently explored”.

The Times report

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