Britain looks to become the first country in the world to have babies that come from three parents, to help solve fertility problems. Draft regulations have been published by the Department of Health and are due to be voted on in Parliament in 2014. If approved the techniques are likely to begin as soon as 2015.
The new techniques are two types of mitochondria replacement/ transfer. Mitochondria is a small amount of genetic material within the cell which is the cell’s ‘energy source’. Our genetic makeup is contained within the cell nucleus. This is made up from chromosomes from the mother and father. The mitochondria can only be from the mother, and can contain genes that will cause cases of rare diseases. 1 in 200 children born will have a mild case of mitochondrial disease that may not even show symptoms, but 1 in 6500 will suffer from severe diseases such as heart failure, muscular dystrophy, epilepsy and brain damage.
There are two types of mitochondria replacement/transfer:
1. Pronuclear transfer- which is performed after fertilisation
The parents fertilised egg which contains the parents nuclear material and unhealthy mitochondria is taken and the nuclear is removed. The donor also has an egg which is fertilised by the same father and contains healthy mitochondria. The nuclear material from this egg is removed and destroyed. The parents nuclear material is then placed within the egg with the healthy mitochondria.
2. Maternal Spindle transfer – which is performed before fertilisation
The egg from the mother has the unhealthy mitochondria removed and the egg from the donor has its nucleus removed and destroyed. The mothers nucleus is then placed in the donors egg which contains healthy mitochondria and then fertilised.
It still remains that the child would still carry the parents DNA as the mitochondrial DNA only makes up around 0.2% of its total, explained another way the mitochondria contains 37 genes whereas the cell nucleus from the parents would contain 20,000.
To women who have these faulty mitochondrial genes this could sound like a miracle cure / treatment but it has obviously opened a huge ethical debate. People opposing this ground breaking treatment use arguments such as
- we are not aware of the implications for future generations who will have these genetic modifications passed down to them
- shouldn’t parenthood be about unconditional love of our children regardless of their health status?
- shouldn’t couples who fear that they will pass on mitochondrial diseases consider adopting?
What do you think? Is it not in the best interests of a child to offer the best treatment available to prevent them from being born without a life threatening disease? Or could we be possibly opening the floodgates by taking these new techniques a step further, and creating our own “designer babies”?