Saturday 12 March 2011
Scientists have been invited to advise whether the new "three-parent IVF" procedure should be approved to help couples affected by devastating conditions.
An expert panel from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) will consider its safety and effectiveness before reporting to Health Secretary, UK Andrew Lansley.
The technique could help couples have healthy children even if they are affected by mitochondrial diseases.
At present, babies born with one of the rare diseases can suffer fatal liver, heart and neurological disorders.
Mitochondria are located in every human cell and act as "power houses" to provide the energy for cells to function.
Mitochondrial DNA is not present in the nucleus of a fertilised egg, meaning scientists could extract the nucleus and place it into another egg from a donor.
The resulting embryo would have almost 100 per cent inherited genetic material from its mother and father.
Alison Murdoch, head of the department of reproductive medicine at Newcastle University, which has developed the technique, said: "We are not ready to do this in patients now but the science is progressing very rapidly and we need to get Parliament to discuss this again now.
"We anticipate that the process of review could take about a year so we are asking for this process to start now.
"Of course there is no guarantee that we will have all the evidence we need to secure a licence in a year but we need to anticipate that we may have and prepare accordingly.
"We recognise this process is necessary and will co-operate fully.
"As doctors we have a duty to treat disease and where possible to prevent disease. With diseases for which there are no treatments the imperative to develop new treatments is even greater.
"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."
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "We have asked the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to co-ordinate an expert group to assess the effectiveness and safety of a new technique to treat mitochondrial disease.
"This is in response to a request from researchers asking the Department of Health to make new regulations under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act to allow this treatment.
"This treatment is not currently possible under current legislation.
"We welcome scientific innovation and this group will investigate the safety of this technique reporting back to us.
"When the group reports back, and based on the evidence available, we can decide whether it is the right time to consider making these regulations."