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article imageNew concerns over three person IVF Special

By Tim Sandle     Aug 3, 2014 in Health
London - The U.K. Department of Health announced today that it will continue with efforts to gain Parliamentary approval for the experimental technique known as three-person IVF. This move trajectory has raised concerns with a campaign group.
With three person IVF, the nucleus of one woman’s egg or embryo is placed into the enucleated egg or embryo of another. The initial approval of the technology in the U.K. was reported on earlier this year by Digital Journal, where it was announced that U.K.’s human embryo research agency stated that the new mitochondrial replacement technique is safe.
In vitro fertilization (or IVF) is a process by which an egg is fertilized by sperm outside the body. It is a major and well-established treatment for infertility. For IVF to be successful it typically requires healthy ova, sperm that can fertilize, and a uterus that can maintain a pregnancy. Due to the costs of the procedure, IVF is generally attempted only after less expensive options have failed. So what is three person IVF? It is much like two person IVF, except that the technique uses a snippet of DNA from a healthy female donor to prevent mothers passing on devastating genetic disorders.
The risk of disorders is the reason that this approach is being considered, that is to prevent mothers from passing mitochondrial diseases onto their children. These diseases include Diabetes mellitus and deafness (DAD) and Neuropathy, ataxia, retinitis pigmentosa, and ptosis (NARP). Mitochondria, the tiny energy generators inside cells, contain their own little bit of DNA, which is separate to the genetic material held in the nucleus.
The new announcement, signalling advancement of the program, has triggered concern with the campaign group Center for Genetics and Society. The group have been raising concerns about the IVF proposals for several years.
Marcy Darnovsky, PhD, Executive Director of the group, contacted Digital Journal to outline the group's concerns. Dr. Darnovsky said: "The UK government is pressing forward with these biologically extreme techniques despite serious safety concerns voiced by scientists, strong disapproval by the public, and their violation of a globally widespread agreement to refrain from human germline modification."
The primary concern is safety. "The UK’s process, which is supposed to consider the evidence, the benefits and the risks, has been deeply flawed", Dr. Darnovsky adds. She then explained what these risks are:
Safety: Safety concerns for children that might be born following these procedures have been articulated by many scientists, including a panel of experts convened by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February 2014. The UK government’s own standard — that there is “no evidence that the techniques are unsafe” — is inadequate and dubious.
Public opinion: The Department of Health announcement was released in conjunction with a report on its public consultation, which found 1152 of 1857 responses opposing the use of these techniques. Although the consultation did not ask whether the draft regulations allowing “three-person IVF” should be approved (focusing instead on how they should be implemented), more than 1000 respondents said that they were premature. The Department of Health report nonetheless dismisses this majority opposition. The Wellcome Trust, which has funded the development of the techniques in the UK, stated that the consultation showed “broad support,” despite the report’s own numbers demonstrating the exact opposite.
Policy and social consequences: If the UK approves “three-person IVF,” it will be in violation of the widespread global agreement to refrain from modifying the human germline. More than 40 countries prohibit human germline modification, including the UK. The planned vote by Parliament will decide whether an exception to that law should be made.
The Department’s draft regulations are due to go to U.K. Parliament in the autumn. Digital Journal is keen to know what you think about the proposal. Please use the comments section below.
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