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Three-Person IVF

Three-person in vitro fertilization is on the way in the UK, and should be ready for use in preventing the birth of children with mitochondrial disease around two years, says a panel tasked with examining the state of this science.

A panel commissioned by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, the independent group that regulates the use of human eggs, sperm, and embryos in treatment and research, assessed two types of IVF: one that involved removing parental nuclei from a fertilized egg and placing them into a donor embryo from a second woman and one that moves the nucleus from the mother's egg into a donor egg, which then can be fertilized, the BBC reports.

The goal of these procedures is to help women who have mitochondrial diseases have healthy babies.

The HFEA says it has found no evidence that either procedure is unsafe, but says it wants to some more tests before it would advise that the UK green-lights them. A detailed assessment will be needed of how these techniques work, the panel says, and there also should be more investigation into any risks that mutated mitochondria pose to the child and to subsequent generations.

"The direction of travel still suggests that it is all safe, but we don't know what's round the corner so we're being a little cautious," says Robin Lovell-Badge, a member of the scientific panel.

"Are these techniques safe in humans? We won't know that until it's actually done in humans," adds Andy Greenfield, who chaired the scientific review panel. "Until a healthy baby is born we cannot say 100 percent that these techniques are safe, if you think back to when IVF was a new technology all of these questions were asked before IVF."

Parliament will have a vote on whether or not to amend current law to allow the 'three-parent IVF' approach later this year, and it is expected to be approved, although some politicians have said they have ethical reservations about the method, the UK's PHG Foundation notes.

One group in the US, the Center for Genetics and Society, has ardently voiced concerns about pursuing three-parent IVF.

"These are biologically extreme and risky procedures," CGS Executive Director Marcy Darnovsky says, "especially in light of the available safer alternatives of using pre-implantation genetic diagnosis or eggs provided by other women."

CGS points out that some scientists involved with developing these techniques have raised questions about whether they might introduce abnormalities in future children, due to cellular manipulations, reagents, or nuclear-mitochondrial incompatibilities.

Darnovsky says a vote in Parliament would be premature, particularly because the panel calls for more research.

"Much of what the HFEA has described as essential research has not yet been conducted," Darnovsky says. "Some of the research it previously said was critical —for example, success in a non-human primate model — has simply been dropped."