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expert reaction to news of birth of baby through mitochondrial DNA transfer for infertility in Greece

Reactions to news of the birth of a baby through mitochondrial DNA transfer in Greece.

A spokesperson for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the UK fertility regulator, said:

“The UK was the first country in the world to regulate mitochondrial donation following extensive public debate and changes in the law. There is only one clinic in the UK licensed by us to carry out this treatment, the Newcastle Fertility Centre at Life. 

“Each application for treatment is considered by us on an individual basis for patients who have a very high risk of having a child with a life-threatening mitochondrial disease, to give them the chance of a healthy, genetically related child. There is limited evidence on risks and success rates, and it should only be used cautiously in cases where alternative treatments would be of little or no benefit.”

Dr Beth Thompson, Wellcome’s Head of UK and EU policy, said:

“The UK has robust regulation that means that mitochondrial donation can only be used to avoid serious disease, rather than to treat infertility. UK regulation was based on strong public engagement and scientific evidence and allows the risks and benefits to be carefully weighed up. We’re proud to be supporting the first UK study into the use of mitochondria donation techniques in a well regulated environment, but we’re concerned about studies taken place without similar levels of oversight.” 

Prof Alastair Sutcliffe, Professor of General Paediatrics, UCL, said:

“The emotively named institute of life in Greece has achieved a formal proof that it is possible for maternal oocyte spindle from one donor mother can be used to help a infertile Mother have a baby. This is an interesting but minor advance, with similar /related work having been ongoing in Newcastle for some years. The curious thing is the claim that it is safe after the birth one of one healthy baby, but a case series of one is not proof and babies …grow up!

“The other curious thing is the actual clinical work was done in Greece but the background science in Spain. When the first baby was born after a round spermatid in Greece some years ago it was immediately banned in the UK (by the HFEA) as a technique as that baby was grossly abnormal. So I am curious as to the Spanish position on spindle transfer. The press release would seem to be overstating the nature of the small but potentially significant advance. I am thus also curious as to whether the  “institute of life” is a private clinic where the positive news would increase booking or a government funded unit. The institute in Newcastle is funded by Wellcome and at the University which will ensure it is under due governance. I note reference in the press release to a Greek governing body of national nature, but there is no refence to an ethical approval.  More evidence needed before a ‘rush to the new’”

Tim Child, Associate Professor, University of Oxford and Medical Director, The Fertility Partnership, said:

“I’m concerned that there’s no proven need for the patient to have her genetic material removed from her eggs and transferred into the eggs of a donor. The patient does not have an inherited disorder that is being treated by spindle transfer, unlike women with inherited mitochondrial disease. The risks of the technique aren’t entirely known, though may be considered acceptable if being used to treat mitochondrial disease, but not in this situation. The patient may have conceived even if a further standard IVF cycle had been used. Without a proper well designed study, with the use of controls, it is not possible to say whether this technique has benefitted the patient.”

Declared Interests

None received.

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