5 February 2015

Mitochondrial Donation via IVF looks set to start in UK

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Melbourne IVF

The news that UK Parliament looks set to allow DNA transplants through mitochondrial transfer in embryos to prevent babies being born with certain debilitating conditions, is a significant scientific milestone in reproductive medicine supported by Melbourne IVF.

“We welcome the scientific community's investigation into mitochondrial donation via embryos to eradicate serious illness in children born from parents with mitochondrial problems,” said Dr Lyndon Hale, Medical Director, Melbourne IVF.

“IVF doctors already test embryos for certain genetic conditions that cause defects in children and don't transfer those affected embryos into the mother. So in my opinion transplanting mitochondria would be ethically equivalent to procedures we undertake to select non affected embryos now,” said Dr Hale.

"The mitochondria are in the cytoplasm, so you take the nucleus from the woman with the defective mitochondria and put that into the other egg where the nucleus has been removed," Dr Hale explained. “The only way to replace the defective mitochondria is at the moment of conception - during embryo creation which means during an IVF procedure.”

"While mitochondrial defects are pretty uncommon, they can be lethal. In Australia about 1 in 250 people will carry a mitochondrial genetic defect, not all of these people will develop the illness, however the risk of developing serious illness in the general population is about 1 in 5,000. I would like to see mitochondrial transfer available in Australia to avoid a debilitating disease and help someone have a child," he said.

Mitochondrial mutations can cause multi-organ failure and fatal heart, liver and muscle conditions. Women who have 'faulty' mitochondria pass this on to their children. The aim of any research in this area is to remove defective genes and replace them with healthy DNA from a donor.

In Australia, scientists are banned from using the DNA of more than two people in any research. The federal government is reviewing the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and Research Involving Human Embryos Act. We would welcome Australia's research community the ability to investigate embryo mitochondrial transfers further.

For more information about Mitochondrial Disease visit the Australian Mitochondrial Disease Foundation 

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