Babies With Three Genetic Parents to Prevent Disease

April 15, 2010

(ChattahBox) – Scientists at Newcastle University have come up with a plan to prevent serious genetic disorders among children, by giving them three parents. The powerful but potentially controversial form of “germ-line gene therapy”, which would prevent the transmission of some inherited diseases to future generations.

The research, published in the journal Nature , involved extracting the two “pronuclei” – the nuclear DNA from mother and father – from a newly fertilized human egg.  The pronuclei are inserted into a fertilized donor egg that has healthy mitochondria, giving the resulting child genetic material from three parents. Mutated mitochondria are found in one of 200 babies born each year, and while most effects are mild, one in 6,500 people will develop a fatal heart, nerve, or muscle conditions. Mitochondria are the batteries of the living cell; as Professor Doug Turnbull, who led the research team put it, “What we’ve done is like changing the battery on a laptop.”  “The energy supply now works properly, but none of the information on the hard drive has been changed,” Prof Turnbull added. “A child born using this method would have correctly functioning mitochondria, but in every other respect would get all their genetic information from their father and mother.”

The current Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act bans fertility treatment following DNA transfer.  The team plans further studies to provide evidence of the procedure’s safety, and do not expect it to be ready for use in patients for about three years.

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