Welcome to March’s e-update. A lot has happened since our last issue, the most newsworthy being at the end of February when Britain became the first country to permit mitochondrial donation techniques designed to eradicate the transmission of serious mitochondrial disease.
This process of parliamentary approval is now compete and the regulations, that we are responsible for, will come into force from 29 October this year. In this issue we look at the science involved in this and explain the tests we need to undertake before we can grant any clinic a licence to offer mitochondrial donation in treatment.
If you would like to find out more about our work and meet some of our team you are welcome to attend our next Authority meeting on Wednesday 11 March. As well as hearing more about mitochondria we will also be talking about our Information for Quality programme which aims to improve how we use and publish information for the benefit of you, our patients and stakeholders.
I hope that you find this edition of e-update informative. Please see our website for more information.
Peter Thompson, Chief Executive, HFEA.
Mitochondria: Parliament votes in favour of a change to the law
Britain has become the first country in the world to allow mitochondrial donation. There has been lots of talk in the media about mitochondrial donation (commonly called ‘three-person IVF’), but what exactly is it and how might it help affected families?
What is mitochondrial disease?
Mitochondrial diseases are passed on from mothers to their children through mitochondria. For women carrying these diseases, there is often a 100% chance that their children will be affected. They can be very severe, usually affecting parts of the body which require most energy, such as the brain and muscles. Frequently these diseases worsen with age. They are associated with a very poor quality of life, and many result in infant mortality. Importantly, they are currently incurable.
What is mitochondrial donation?
Mitochondrial donation is a new IVF-based treatment which could now be used to help affected women have children free from the disease they carry or are affected by.
There are two different techniques, both of which have the same approach: to take the prospective mother’s nuclear DNA and to transfer it into a donor egg which contains healthy mitochondria. The mother’s unhealthy mitochondria are therefore left behind.
The differences in the techniques lie in when this transfer takes place: maternal spindle transfer (MST) takes place between two eggs, whereas in pronuclear transfer (PNT) the transfer takes place between two fertilised eggs, the earliest stage in the life of an embryo.
Is mitochondrial donation safe?
During the last four years our expert panel of scientists has published three scientific reviews of the safety and efficacy of mitochondrial donation and concluded that mitochondrial donation by MST and PNT is "not unsafe”. Although the expert panel has recommended that further experiments should take place before treatment is offered, they expect such research to support the conclusions it has reached so far.
It’s important to remember that mitochondrial donation cannot be offered to patients straight away. The change in the law, which comes into force in October, has allowed the HFEA to grant licences to IVF clinics to be able to offer the treatment.
However, before we grant any licences, we will need to assess the latest research and make sure the clinic has the right expertise and service in place. We want to make sure that affected families who would like mitochondrial donation get access to high quality treatment gives their child the best chance of a healthy life.
Our next Authority is on 11 March.
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Page last updated: 03 March 2015