The UK has approved a groundbreaking IVF technique that allows the creation of three-person babies.
The decision by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) was based on a 10-year comprehensive global scientific and ethical review of the treatment, which is designed to prevent the transmission of deadly mitochondrial disease.
The first child to benefit from the technique could be born by the end of 2017.
‘Mito’ is a debilitating genetic disorder that robs the body’s cells of energy, causing multiple organ dysfunction or failure and potentially death. Sufferers can experience anything from loss of sight to difficultly walking, cardiac problems or intellectual disability.
It’s currently incurable, but the new treatment would prevent it from being passed to children by replacing the defective mitochondrial DNA – which is carried by the mother – with a healthy equivalent from a donor egg.
While critics of the technique argue it will pave the way for designer babies, Professor David Thorburn, Head of Mitochondrial Research at Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, says it’s important to note that the donor mitochondrial DNA contributes to just 0.1 per cent of the child’s genetic make-up.
“The mitochondrial DNA contribution is important for converting food into energy but appears to make no significant contribution to appearance, behaviour or other features, which are overwhelmingly determined by the nuclear genes and environment,” he said.
With more than 1600 Australian children born each year developing Mito - 30 of which won't survive beyond childhood - local researchers hope the treatment will soon be approved down under.
Among them, the Australian Mitochondrial Disease Foundation.
The organisation's CEO Sean Murray argues that Australian woman also ought to have access to the treatment "under certain specific conditions and strict regulation".
"Following these pioneering UK developments, the Australian Mitochondrial Disease Foundation – and the local mitochondrial disease community – looks forward to the Australian Government following suit and changing the law to give Australian parents-to-be the choice to access mitochondrial donation and have a healthy biological child," he said.