Next year could see the birth of the first baby in Britain to have DNA from three biological parents.
The University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne is developing an IVF procedure which will use a donor egg to allow women who are carriers of genetic diseases to have a healthy baby. The technique is controversial but it has now been declared safe for use so the first baby could be born in the UK using the process as early as 2017.
The scientists working on the fertility treatment have carried out experiments using eggs and embryos for more than 10 years and now they are looking to trial the procedure on actual women. But those working on the project have admitted that there are no guarantees that every baby born using this process will be free from health problems.
The technique works by replacing the faulty mitochondria from the mother-to-be with healthy ones which will be taken from an egg donated by another woman. Women who have diseased mitochondria often suffer from recurrent miscarriages and could go on to have a child with a genetic condition which could kill them in infancy.
Embryo will have DNA from two biological mothers
Researchers have already created more than 200 embryos with three biological parents and grown them up until they were six days old. Tests carried out on the embryos showed they were as healthy as those created with conventional IVF techniques.
It is not possible to get rid of all the faulty DNA but the scientists claim that enough is replaced to make sure the baby is healthy. However, there are some concerns that a child born in this way could still end up suffering from a genetic condition later in their life if their diseased mitochondria multiplies over time.
One of the researchers at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Doug Turnbull, said: “The key message is that we have found no evidence the technique is unsafe. We have to move along respectfully and appropriately but as scientists and clinicians we are working as hard as possible to make this a reality for our patients.”
The Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority must now decide whether to approve this technique for use in the UK. If it is given the go-ahead, it is estimated that it could be used by up to 150 women each year.
Any babies born using the technique will have DNA from their mother and father as well as mitochondrial DNA from the woman who has donated her egg. This could cause issues when it comes to DNA testing as the child will have three biological parents instead of two, although most of their genes will still come from their mother and father.