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Mitochondrial Donation via IVF: UK debate

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Today’s news that UK Parliament has debated at length the possibility of allowing the creation of babies with DNA from three people through mitochondrial transfer, and will decide today if it is to become the first country in the world to allow this scientific advance to be translated in to clinical practice, is welcomed by IVFAustralia.

“IVFAustralia supports the scientific community's investigation into mitochondrial mutations to eradicate serious illness in children born from parents with mitochondrial problems,” said A/Prof Peter Illingworth Medical Director IVFAustralia.

“The British Parliament has a reputation for thorough debate and world leading legislation around reproductive medicine and research. The extensive ethical debate is outweighed in our opinion by the potential capacity to cure debilitated mitochondrial disease.”

In Australia about 1 in 250 people will carry a mitochondrial genetic defect, not all of these people will develop the illness, however the risk of developing serious illness in the general population is about 1 in 5,000 and one child a week is born in Australia with a mitochondrial condition - rare conditions but debilitating.

Mitochondrial mutations can cause multi-organ failure and fatal heart, liver and muscle conditions. Women who have 'bad' mitochondria pass this on to their children. The aim of any research in this area would be to remove defective genes and replace them with healthy DNA from a donor.

"While this would mean we are using the genes of three parents it is important to understand that the genes that determine behaviour and appearance come from the nucleus of the cell not the mitochondria," said IVFAustralia's Medical Director A/Prof Peter Illingworth.

IVFAustralia is not undertaking this research. However, the health implications of these sorts of diseases are serious and we would welcome Australia's research community the ability to investigate further.

In Australia scientists are banned from using the DNA of more than two people in any research. The federal government is reviewing the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and Research Involving Human Embryos Act after a report was tabled in parliament in 2011. The report includes 264 submissions debating the validity of changing the legislation.

"In January 2012 scientists at Britain's Newcastle University were given a grant to research the technique and we look forward to hearing of any progress," said Professor Illingworth, "Along with the Australian scientific community we are hopeful the Government may alter the law to allow further research into embryo mitochondrial transfers."

For more information about Mitochondrial Disease contact the Australia Mitochondrial Disease Foundation

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