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expert reaction to exclusive in the Independent on mitochondrial DNA replacement babies

Experts responded to an exclusive in the Independent on mitochondrial DNA replacement accusing the Government of dishonesty over the regulation of the process.


Nancy Lee, Senior Policy Advisor at the Wellcome Trust said:

“There has never been any suggestion, either by scientists working on mitochondrial replacement or by the Government or regulators, that this technique does not involve altering DNA: the whole point is to replace faulty mitochondrial DNA with healthy mitochondrial DNA from a healthy donor.

“The technique is different from genetic modification techniques which alter DNA in the nucleus of an embryo, where the overwhelming majority of genetic material is held. It is thus important that the Government frames regulations in a way that permits mitochondrial replacement, without allowing modifications to nuclear DNA.

“The semantic terms used to describe the technique ultimately matter much less than the unprecedented scrutiny it will have received, from both ethical and scientific perspectives, before it is approved for clinical use. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has reviewed the ethics positively, two government consultations have revealed broad public support, and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s expert scientific panel has found no safety reasons not to proceed. It is time for the Department of Health to lay regulations that would permit clinical use before Parliament for a vote to enable families to choose to have children free from devastating mitochondrial disease.”


Sarah Norcross, Director of the Progress Educational Trust said:

‘While it is true that mitochondrial donation techniques modify an egg or embryo, the crucial point is that these techniques move DNA molecules from one place to another while leaving them completely intact. Fears associated with the concept of “genetic modification” are not relevant to mitochondrial donation, because these fears relate to the consequences of intervening in the gene sequence within the molecule. Mitochondrial donation involves no such intervention in the gene sequence, and therefore no associated risk.’


Prof Frances Flinter, Professor of Clinical Genetics at King’s College London & Consultant in Clinical Genetics at Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“Obviously it will be essential to establish the safety and efficacy of mitochondrial replacement therapies during carefully regulated clinical trials before they are offered more widely. If they work, however, not only will couples be able to have children who are unaffected by serious mitochondrial disorders, but they will know that their future grandchildren will not be at risk of inheriting these conditions either.”


Declared interests

The Wellcome Trust funds research into mitochondrial DNA replacement

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