Australian law is blocking babies being conceived using DNA from three people

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There’s little prospect in the short term of a baby being conceived in Australia with a new technique which uses DNA from three people to avoid passing on a fatal disease.

The world’s first baby conceived using DNA from three people has been born in Mexico, according to research to be presented at the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) conference.

The boy was conceived using what’s called a spindle nuclear transfer, where the nucleus of the mother’s egg is transplanted into a donor egg with healthy mitochondria which has had its own nucleus removed. Because mitochondria have their own small amount of DNA, once the egg is fertilised via IVF, the embryo contains the genetic material from three different people.

The technique was used to stop the baby developing the mitochondrial disease known as Leigh Syndrome, a disorder which affects the central nervous system and typically results in death within two to three years.

The couple had suffered four miscarriages and the deaths of two children before trying to conceive using DNA from three people.

However, in Australia this technique is currently not permitted under the current legislation.

Dr Ainsley Newson, Associate Professor of Bioethics at the University of Sydney, says the format of Australian cloning laws means that performing this technique in either a research or clinical setting would be illegal.

“Given advances in this area, Australia needs to look at how its laws can keep pace with fast-moving technologies like this one,” he says.

“Ethical aspects of this technique, such as the cost of the technology and the value of having a genetically related child need to be weighed against the value for this couple.

“But, the manner of this particular case is disquieting. The treatment location seems to have been chosen due to there not being any regulations in place. This is in stark contrast to the UK, where specific regulation was developed after a lengthy process of scientific, legal and public engagement.”

This is a landmark case for patients and families suffering from mitochondrial disease, according to professor Carolyn Sue, the Director of Neurogenetics at the Kolling Institute, University of Sydney.

“Hopefully this information will give hope to those families who have to make the difficult decision to embrace new technologies such as spindle nuclear transfer in their quest to have better health for their children,” she says.

“This is a courageous step forward and further information about the progress of this child and those that follow will be key to our understanding of whether this therapy should be offered in the long run.”

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