The Australian Government is being urged to reconsider its ban on a controversial IVF technique that creates embryos with DNA from three people to prevent the inheritance of a serious genetic disease.
This week, the UK House of Commons voted in favour of making Britain the first country in the world to allow the procedure. It involves scientists combining genetic material from two women’s eggs to prevent a mitochondrial disease being passed on to a carrier’s offspring. This can occur before or after the intended mother’s egg is fertilised with her partner’s sperm in a laboratory.
Despite claims the technique allows three “parents” to create designer babies, it only involves replacing the affected mother’s mitochondrial DNA with healthy DNA from a female donor’s egg. As a result, the donor contributes 0.2 per cent of DNA to the embryo – not genes that influence a person’s identity, such as their eye colour and personality.
While the House of Lords is yet to approve the move, it is considered likely to proceed.
Chief executive of the Australian Mitochondrial Disease Foundation Sean Murray applauded the British development and said it was time for the Australian Government to reconsider its ban on embryos containing genetic material from three people. He estimated that about 60 women a year in Australia may be interested in the technique if it was made available to them.
“We’re talking about transmission of a horrible disease that is debilitating and potentially fatal,” he said.
Professor of reproductive medicine at Monash University John Carroll echoed the call, saying British authorities had conducted a thorough review of the ethical issues before overwhelmingly voting in favour of it. He said Australian experts were well placed to offer the procedure here.
“Let’s now go on and proceed carefully with it,” he said. “It’s a great advance in medical treatment.”
But director of the Centre for Genetic Diseases at MIMR-PHI Institute of Medical Research Professor Justin St. John said more animal trials should be performed to ensure the safety and efficacy of the technique before it is used to produce children.
“We should proceed with caution,” he said.
Spokespeople for federal Health Minister Sussan Ley, the department of health and the National Health and Medical Research Council declined to comment on calls for them to review legislation banning the procedure here.
Mitochondrial disease is a potentially fatal genetic disorder that robs the body’s cells of energy, causing multiple organ dysfunction. One Australian child born every week will develop a severe form of the disease, for which there are currently very few effective treatments.