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scientists react to HFEA license

These comments were collected after the HFEA granted a license to research creating an embryo containing genetic material from two mothers.

Dr Virginia Bolton, Consultant Clinical Embryologist, Guy’s Hospital, said:

“I’m delighted to hear that this research has been approved by the HFEA. This is yet another example of the value of human embryo research to establish the safety of a technique before it is introduced into clinical practice. This means that rather than using the adult couple and prospective baby as experimental material, we can use a human embryo donated to research to provide the vital information.”

Dr Andy Miah, Ethicist, Paisley University, said:

“Many of the more controversial ethical concerns arise only if we project into the future and imagine that a child were to be born, as a result of this kind of procedure. Indeed, it is useful to consider this difficult case, even though we are still not yet there. So, even if a child were born with ‘two mothers’, I doubt very much that we should be concerned about its welfare any more than we are concerned about the welfare of all children. For those who would see this as a threat to the family unit, we should endeavour to persuade them that reproductive technologies could encourage a greater acceptance of diversity in our society.”

Professor Azim Surani, Marshall-Walton Professor Of Physiology And Reproduction, Cambridge University, said:

“I welcome this announcement as this area of research offers a real hope of treatment for patients with mitochondrial diseases. In this case they are planning to take the genetic material from one fertilised egg and put it into a normal unfertilised egg. This procedure is completely unlike cloning since it does not involve making a copy of an existing adult. The donor genetic material is from a fertilsed egg that has yet to develop into an adult organism. From mouse experiments we know that when you do this kind of transfer it is more efficient than cloning. I also see few ethical problems as we are dealing with the embryo at a very early stage where the cells haven’t even started to divide yet.”

Dr Huseyin Mehmet, Weston Senior Lecturer In Neurobiology, Imperial College, said:

“The license awarded by the HFEA appears to contradict their own point of view. Four years ago similar experiments carried out by an American group were frowned upon by the HFEA, although it should be stressed that those experiments were aimed at curing infertility while this research will focus on a special group of muscle diseases called mitochondrial myopathies. Nevertheless, I find it rather paradoxical that the HFEA will have awarded a license for research whose clinical application (which will alter the germline of the baby) is by their own definition unethical.”

Professor Peter Braude, Kings College London, said:

“I am delighted to hear that this important work will be pursued in the UK, and that the HFEA have had the wisdom to licence it. Performing the research using donated eggs will help understand whether the process is achievable and safe. They are responsibly doing the needed experiments on cleaving embryos in vitro first, before trying it out on patients. If it works and is safe it will be the answer to the prayers of those inflicted with these awful mitochondrial genetic disorders, for which there is no treatment.”

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