Sunday, February 8, 2015

Commons to vote on mitochondrial therapy

A radical new approach developed in the United Kingdom for the treatment of a potentially wide spectrum of inherited — and hitherto incurable — diseases has run into controversial waters. The future of the technique known as ‘mitochondrial replacement therapy’ or MRT will be decided by a parliamentary vote on Tuesday, February 3.
Professor of Neurology and Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre of Mitochondrial Disease Doug Turnbull and his team at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne have pioneered the method. It treats women with mitochondrial disease (a range of inherited diseases caused by defective mitochondria, the elements in the cell that generate energy), by replacing the dysfunctional mitochondria carried by a woman who wishes to conceive with the healthy mitochondria of a donor. The egg is then fertilised with the partner’s sperm through IVF. The embryo thus created is one technically cleansed of the mutated mitochondrial DNA that the mother originally carried.
Tuesday’s vote in the House of Commons will decide whether the United Kingdom’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority can grant licences to allow the replacement therapy to be conducted in U.K. clinics.
Researchers are concerned that the vociferous opposition to the technique led by the Church of England may carry weight with Members of Parliament and public opinion at large. The Church opposes the technique on the grounds that the manipulation of the nuclear DNA of two women and a man would create three-parent babies, leading to what they warn is a “Frankenstein future”.
“We have been working on this for 15 years,” Professor Turnbull was quoted by The Observer on Sunday as saying. Calling the review process as an “exemplary example of proper consultation and evidence-based policy”, he argues that the denial of the procedure by Parliament would affect the chances of women affected by the condition to have healthy children.
Human mitochondrial disorders are among the most common genetic diseases, affecting around one in 6500 people. They are believed to be the reason behind 150 known conditions.


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