UK votes for families to be free of mitochondrial disease

It is wonderful news that the House of Commons yesterday voted to approve the technology whereby faulty mitochondria within an embryo are replaced by those from a healthy donor. The human body is made of billions of cells and each cell contains mitochondria. Mitochondria are like batteries within the cell providing the energy for the cell to function. Without energy to power the cells they lose their function, particularly affecting the cells within the muscles, brain, heart and many other organs, leading to progressive weakness, blindness, deafness, dementia and death at an early age.

Mitochondrial donation will enable families affected by mitochondrial disease to have healthy children. The British Fertility Society states that “the science behind this technology has been rigorously developed and the subject of external scientific, ethical and legal scrutiny. In addition there has been enormous public support through consultations conducted by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) which will also ensure tight regulation going forward.” Professor Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer and the most senior advisor on health matters in the government, gave strong backing to the technology.

The misleading and inaccurate headline “Three-parent children” has a rather emotive tone to it and has given rise to the erroneous concept of what really happens in the technology. A child born from mitochondrial donation will inherit 99.9% of the parents’ genes. The donated mitochondria contribute the remaining 0.1% of the genes which are not involved in the physical characteristics or personality of the child. Indeed if a child was to have a kidney transplant, that kidney would account for 0.2% of the child’s DNA (what genes are made of) which is more than that of mitochondrial transplant. One would never think of calling that child a “Three-parent child”!

Mitochondrial transplant will not be a free-for-all. It will be strictly regulated by the HFEA and every case will be scrutinised and approved by its committee members which include scientists, ethicists, lawyers and lay members of the public.

The Herts & Essex Fertility Centre believe that this will be a great step forward in getting rid of this terrible disease and bring much needed hope to many long suffering families with affected children. In the words of one parent, “the disease strips our children of the skills they have learnt and tire their organs one by one until they fail.” Hopefully this will be a thing of the past.

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