Three-person babies approved in the UK

Babies made from two women and one man have been approved by the UK’s fertility regulator, in order to prevent children being born with deadly genetic diseases

The UK’s fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has approved the creation of three-person babies. Doctors at Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle University, who developed the advanced form of IVF, are expected to be the first to offer the procedure, and have already appealed for donor eggs. They hope to help 25 couples every year, with the possibility that the first child could be born by the end of 2017.

The aim of three-person babies is to help prevent children being born with fatal genetic diseases; some parents lose multiple children to incurable mitochondrial defects. Such diseases are passed down from the mother, so a technique using a donor egg as well as the mother’s egg and the father’s sperm has been developed. Healthy mitochondria would be taken from the donor, which carries its own DNA, meaning the child would have a tiny amount of genetic makeup from the donor.

“It is a decision of historic importance,” said Sally Cheshire, chairwoman of the HFEA. “This is about cautious go ahead, not gung-ho go ahead, and there is a long way to go. I’m sure patients will be really pleased by what we’ve decided today.”

The procedure has been deemed legal, ethical and scientifically ready, but there are still a number of scientists who have questioned the approval, saying it could open the door to genetically modified designer babies. From now on, the HFEA must approve every clinic and every patient before the procedure can take place. Clinic can apply to the regulator for a license to conduct the special form of IVF.

Robert Meadowcroft, from the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK, said: “This historic decision will open the door to the first licensed treatments being offered. We know of many women who have faced heartache and tragedy and the sorrow of stillbirths, while trying to start their own family, and this decision gives them new hope and choice for the first time.”

The procedure for creating a three-person baby has already taken place; a Jordanian couple had the treatment performed in Mexico with the help of New York doctors. In the UK, the NHS will fund the treatment costs of the first trial, as long as the parents agree to long-term follow up of their children after they’ve been born.