Head of MIMR-PHI’s Centre for Genetic Diseases, Professor Justin St.John, has played a key role in the debate over the UK’s recent decision to become the first country in the world to allow the controversial ‘Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy’ technique which has taken on the name ‘three-parent IVF’.
Babies that result from the technique — which uses a donated embryo from a third party to cut out the risk of certain genetic disorders that the mother might pass on — can only attribute around .1 per cent of their DNA to the third party. The donors provide only their mitochondria which are the “power plants” of the cell, converting food into energy to power a cell. When someone’s mitochondria don’t function properly, it can cause many life-threatening problems.
Professor St.John has been a mitochondria researcher for 20 years and, while he supports the technique, he has voiced his concerns that this decision may have come too early as he believes further testing is required to confirm its safety.
“I support the use of the mitochondria replacement technologies and I believe that these will become very useful technologies to prevent the inheritance of mitochondrial disease. However, before the technique is used to produce children, I think there should be additional testing carried out. The reason for this is that the defective mitochondrial DNA can be carried over into the donor egg and, if it persists in the early embryo, it can be inherited by the children. This is something that we really need to avoid happening,” said Professor St.John.
“By using large animal models where gestation is longer and more similar to the human, we will be able to determine what the real effects of mitochondrial DNA carry over are. This needs to be undertaken with sufficient animals to ensure that the data can be tested with rigorous statistical methods. Until we have this information, we should proceed with caution”.
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