Today the Wellcome Trust has announced funding for researchers at Newcastle University, into techniques that will help people carrying mitochondrial diseases avoid passing them on to their children.
Sharmila Nebhrajani, chief executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) welcomed today’s announcements:
‘Right now there are no cures for mitochondrial diseases and no way of helping people avoid passing them on to their children. Research in this area is much needed and AMRC are delighted that the team in Newcastle have funding.
‘If their research is successful, it will be vital the health secretary moves quickly to ensure these techniques can be licensed and are available to patients. It is essential that we all have confidence in the legal and ethical framework around these therapies, and we welcome the Department of Health’s public dialogue as an important step in this process.’
At the moment this research is permitted under UK law, but if it leads to safe and effective techniques, it won't be immediately possible for them to be used to treat people. The health secretary will need to introduce further regulations, which will have to be agreed by parliament, so that treatment can be offered to help affected couples have children who don’t have mitochondrial disease.
Mutations in mitochondrial DNA can lead to people suffering disabling and potentially fatal symptoms including blindness, organ failure, muscular weakness, learning disability and diabetes. Research offers considerable promise to people who are at risk of passing serious mitochondrial disorders on to their children. But these techniques are controversial, because they involve donor eggs and because the child will have a small amount of DNA from a donor as well as the DNA from their parents.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has been asked by the government to find out what the public thinks about these type of IVF techniques becoming available as treatments.
19 January 2012