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Three-parent IVF could prevent genetic disorders

New fertility technique that uses the DNA from three people to lower the risks of inherited diseases is under investigation

Posted: 11 March 2011
by Kimberley Smith
three-parent IVF
Research is ongoing to help hereditary disorders

A controversial new conception technique known as “three-parent IVF” is under assessment by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) after researchers published a report into the procedure.

The technique could enable parents who carry serious hereditary mitochondrialdiseases to have biological children without passing on the conditions. Mitochondria are like little batteries, proviting energy for cells to function. The technique works by transplanting the nucleus of a fertilised egg – that has the DNA of the mum and dad – into a donor egg. Mitochondrial DNA is not found in the nucleus of the egg, so this would allow the foetus to develop as normal, without any damaged cells.

However, this would mean that the baby would have some DNA from the donor, even though it would be a very tiny amount. The technique is still far from ready to be tested on couples but has already been criticised by some groups.

“The more you manipulate embryos, the more the risk there is,” said David King, from Human Genetics Alert.

But the researchers from the project are hopeful their work could help couples with genetic problems have healthy babies. “As doctors we have a duty to treat disease and where possible to prevent disease,” explained Alison Murdoch, head of the department of reproductive medicine at Newcastle University. “Of course no treatment is ever risk-free and if there are risks we will need to quantify these so that doctors can discuss the relative risks and benefits with patients and their families,” she said.

The HFEA investigation is expected to take around a year. Find out more about fertility treatment and what your options are.


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embryos, human genetics, three-parent IVF, fertility treatment, mitochondria, hereditary disease, prevention, cure
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