Researchers from Newcastle University have been funded more than $9.3 million by the Wellcome Trust to begin experimenting with a method that could lead to children having DNA from three people to eliminate some genetic disorders.
According to the Telegraph, the technique involves removing the nucleus from a donor cell and inserting a fertilised nucleus from the hopeful couple or the unfertilized nucleus of the mother for fertilization later. This effort, researchers believe, could help couples where the mother has known genetic disorders carried on her mitochondrial DNA — DNA found in the mitochondria of a cell.
Mitochondrial DNA, which composes 0.2 per cent of a human’s DNA and doesn’t influence traits like physical appearance, is passed down from mother to offspring. But, there are several genetic disorders, such as muscular dystrophy and ataxia, which are associated with this type DNA.
Review of cellular biology. (Image: Genebase)
As of right now in the U.K., such embryos created would not be allowed to be placed into patients but the Telegraph reports that the health secretary could lift this regulation and bring the research into human trials within two to three years.
The Telegraph has more from the researchers:
Prof. Doug Turnbull, who is leading the research, said: “The important thing is that this has the possibility of stopping the disease completely.
“If this technique proves to be as safe as IVF and as effective as the preliminary studies, I think we could totally prevent the transmission of these diseases.”
Sir Mark Walport, head of the Wellcome Trust, said the genetic impact of inheriting a third person’s mitochondrial DNA would be as minimal as changing the batteries in a camera.
He said: “We welcome the opportunity to discuss with the public why we believe this technique is essential if we are to give families affected by these diseases the chance to have healthy children, something most of us take for granted.”
The Telegraph reports that this technique has been successful at preventing genetic diseases carried on mitochondrial DNA in monkeys and mice.
But, the research is not without its opposition. The Telegraph reports the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children as calling it “macabre and unethical” and cited fears of other “developmental abnormalities”.
Cristina Odone, in an opinion’s piece on the research for the Telegraph, writes that she sees this method as another attempt to “dehumanize disabled people.” Odone writes that unlike chemotherapy and vaccines, which are meant to save lives while still “confirming that every one of them is special”, this technique is only attempting to save healthy lives while “keep[ing] unborn the rest.”