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'Broad Support' for Mitochondrial DNA Transplants

The UK's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority said yesterday that there is "broad support" among the public for allowing the transplant of mitochondrial DNA into embryos to prevent mitochondrial disease.

The HFEA, which regulates fertility procedures in the country, yesterday released the results of a year-long public consultation it had conducted on the technique, which replaces damaged mitochondrial DNA from an affected mother’s egg with mitochondrial DNA from a healthy donor.

The process, which is currently not permitted under UK law, has been considered to be controversial "because it is a germline therapy that will alter the mitochondrial genome of all subsequent generations," the PHG Foundation notes in its blog.

Lisa Jardine, chair of the HFEA, said in a statement that in its dialogue with the public, the agency found "broad support for permitting mitochondria replacement, to give families at risk of mitochondrial disease the chance of having a healthy child."

She added that although "some people have concerns about the safety of these techniques, we found that they trust the scientific experts and the regulator to know when it is appropriate to make them available to patients.”

HFEA conducted a scientific review that found no evidence that the procedure is unsafe in humans. It did, however, recommend several regulations for fertility clinics who intend to transplant mitochondrial DNA. Namely, the procedure should only be used to avoid serious diseases; clinics would need to be specifically licensed by the HFEA to perform mitochondrial transfer; the agency would have to approve each use of mitochondria replacement; and clinics would have to conduct follow-up research on the children who are born using this procedure.

In addition, children would not have the right to obtain identifying information about the donor of mitochondrial DNA.

The HFEA now will pass its recommendations to the UK government, which will decide whether to seek Parliamentary approval to allow the procedure to be used in clinics.

Nature News reports that no other countries to date have legalized mitochondrial transfer and notes that the first trials in the UK would likely be "years away."