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UK moves to legalize controversial IVF technique

The United Kingdom today inched closer to legalizing a controversial method of reproduction, known as mitochondrial replacement, or ‘three-parent IVF’. The Department of Health announced a public consultation of draft legislation that would allow the procedures, which are intended to prevent children from inheriting diseases caused by faulty mitochondria.

The consultation, which runs until 21 May, is an early step toward amending the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which would allow the mitochondrial replacement procedures. The UK government must then decide whether to put such legislation to Parliament for approval (see “UK sets sights on gene therapy in eggs“).

Mitochondrial replacement involves transferring the nuclear material from an egg cell with defective mitochondria to a healthy donor egg cell in which these power-generating organelles function normally, but which has had its nucleus removed. The techniques have been tested in monkeys, yielding healthy offspring, as well as in human egg cells (see “DNA swap could avoid inherited diseases” and “DNA swap technology almost ready for fertility clinic”).

If the procedures are eventually legalized, doctors would not necessarily be given a green light to begin offering them to parents. The draft regulation would require any clinic seeking to conduct mitochondrial replacements to be licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, a statutory body that regulates reproductive techniques such as in vitro fertilisation.

Although the UK is leading the way in considering mitochondrial replacement in humans, others are testing the waters. On 25 and 26 February, a US Food and Drug Administration advisory panel examined the science behind the technologies, as well as their potential safety if tested in humans (see “Regulators weigh benefits of three parent fertilization“).

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