Science Interviews

Interview

Sun, 7th Jul 2013

Three-person IVF

Nell Barrie

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Kat -   And another ruling thatís been in the news this month is that the UK government is pushing ahead with plans to allow doctors to create IVF babies with genetic material from 3 people.  But what exactly is the technology about, Nell?

Nell -   So, I think one thing the nerds may have objected to is this kind of term of 3 person IVF because it does make it sound like you're getting genetic material from mum and dad and somebody else, mixing altogether and creating some strangeÖ

Kat -   Franken baby!

Nell -   Yeah, exactly, Franken baby.  And actually, the third person is just supplying the mitochondria.  So, itís the mitochondrial DNA which is in a lot of ways completely different from the normal genetic material that you'd get in a human cell.  So, the mitochondria are there as batteries essentially inside the cell and that was all explained really nicely I thought in a lot of the coverage.  It was, you know, what the mitochondria do, how can mitochondria going wrong cause disease, and we heard about that.  And essentially, this is about replacing faulty mitochondria that have got something wrong in their genetic material with healthy mitochondria from a donor.  The mother and the fatherís DNA are exactly the same.  They mix together in exactly the same ways they would normally and they get a baby that doesnít have a problem with its mitochondria.

Kat -   So, thatís important to make it clear that itís the mum and the dad who want to have a baby, itís their genes.  You're basically using a donor egg to provide the mitochondria that are faulty.  Itís relatively rare, the kind of diseases that are caused by these faulty mitochondria, but they're absolutely tragic and do affect families in really devastating ways.  So, I think itís a very brave move.  There is some opposition to it though.

Nell -   Yeah, there is and I was having a raid of different peopleís opinions on this because I find this type of stuff really fascinating, because itís the power of what science can do now and what people feel about that.  And itís almost, people have this very sort of visceral emotional reaction to this type of advance and there's all this talk of, weíre playing God.  We shouldnít be making these decisions, but you're absolutely right.  One of the saddest things that came out for me was that some of these mitochondrial disorders, there isnít even a test for them.  So, you may know that you're at risk because youíve had a baby whoís died or a child thatís affected, you have another child, and youíve got no idea until that disease starts to actually show symptoms whether that child has got a problem or not.  So, this must just be really, really tough for parents to go through and theyíll sometimes have several children who all die at different stages.  There's literally nothing they can do about this.

Kat -   And thatís being the argument on the science side that if we can do this, we should.  And itís not going to be loads and loads of cases.  I think itís going to around five to 10 cases every year once it starts possibly by the end of 2014.  But itís certainly fascinating example of how building on things like IVF technology that started in the Ď70s, we can actually make real improvements for public health and hopefully, weíll start to see some babies born in the not-too-distant future.  Thanks very for that Nell.  Thatís Nell Barrie, Science Writer.

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