HFEA to consult on ethics of 'mitochondria transfer'*

The Secretary of State for Health together with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills have jointly asked the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to seek public views on emerging IVF techniques designed to prevent the transmission of mitochondrial disease.

Such techniques may allow women with particular genetic diseases to avoid passing it on to their child. These techniques are only permitted in research at present. Our public dialogue will explore what people think about the possible use of these techniques in treatment – the transfer from laboratory to clinic.

The HFEA, working with Sciencewise, will begin the public dialogue later this year, guided by a group of experts which will oversee the process. The dialogue will be in several phases beginning with preparation starting now.

Professor Lisa Jardine, Chair of the HFEA, said today: “We were delighted to accept the Ministers’ request to carry out this important piece of work, which we are uniquely placed to conduct. Explaining complicated science to the public is an important feature of our work. We will bring both our ethics expertise and our inside knowledge of licensing research and treatment in IVF to bear on this cutting edge and controversial area of reproductive science.

“This is an issue of great importance to families affected by mitochondria disease and it is also one of enormous public interest. The decision about whether this research technique should be made available to treat patients is one for the Secretary of State and, ultimately, Parliament. We will work hard to stimulate a rich and varied public debate, to help him make an informed decision.”

A full timeline of consultation events will be announced in early Spring 2012.


How to participate

To register your interest in the consultation, send an email to mitochondria@hfea.gov.uk with ‘subscribe’ in the subject line. We will send you regular updates, news and information on how you can get involved.


What are the techniques being developed to avoid mitochondrial disease?

Information on mitochondria and mitochondrial disease is available on the HFEA’s website.

 *'Mitochondia transfer' is a lay term to describe scientific techniques to avoid mitochondrial disease through assisted conception.



Notes to editors

  • The HFEA is the independent regulator for IVF treatment and embryo research. Our role is to protect patients and the public interest, to drive improvement in the treatment and research sectors and to provide information to the public and policymakers about treatment and research.
  • Sciencewise is an organisation that helps policymakers commission and use public dialogue in emerging areas of science and technology. See http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk for more information.
  • In Spring 2011, the HFEA carried out a scientific review of the methods to avoid mitochondrial disease - http://www.hfea.gov.uk/6372.html, also requested by the Department of Health.
  • The HFEA was set up in August 1991 as part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.  The HFEA’s principal tasks are to license and monitor clinics that carry out in vitro fertilisation (IVF), artificial insemination (AI) and human embryo research. The HFEA also regulates the storage of gametes (eggs and sperm) and embryos. See www.hfea.gov.uk for further details.

For further information please contact the HFEA press office on 020 7291 8226 or email press.office@hfea.gov.uk




Page last updated: 19 January 2012