House of Commons Library

Mitochondrial Donation

Published Thursday, January 29, 2015

This note seeks to provide a summary of the role of mitochondria, mitochondrial disease and the proposed new techniques. It will also outline the investigations into these techniques that took place prior to the Government announcement; a HFEA scientific review of the safety and efficacy of methods, an ethical review of the techniques for mitochondrial replacement undertaken by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and an HFEA public consultation. The main safety and ethical considerations associated with the introduction of these techniques into clinical practice will be discussed.

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New mitochondrial donation techniques could provide an option for women with mitochondrial DNA mutations to enable them to give birth to healthy children. They involve using donor mitochondria in an in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment.

The techniques (maternal spindle transfer and pronuclear transfer) have been subject to three scientific reviews (2011, 2013 and a further update in 2014) by a Human Embryology and Fertilisation Authority expert panel, an ethical review by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and a HFEA public consultation.

In 2013, the HFEA advised the Government that there is general support for the introduction of these treatments. They recommended that further research is still needed and the treatment should be offered within a strict regulatory framework.

On 17 December 2014, the Under-Secretary of State for Health announced that the Regulations to allow for the introduction of these techniques had been laid before the House. This followed a consultation on draft regulations and a scientific review update by the HFEA expert panel in 2014. A House of Commons debate on the Regulations has been tabled for 3 February 2015.

A number of safety and ethical considerations have been raised in regard to mitochondrial donation. The treatments involve changing the embryo’s mitochondrial DNA prior to implantation. However, the nuclear DNA, which makes up over 99% of our total DNA will not be altered by these treatments. There has been some opposition to their proposed introduction and the media have reported that the techniques will lead to three parent babies.

This note provides a summary of the role of mitochondria, mitochondrial disease and the proposed new techniques. It also provides information on the reviews and consultations. The main safety and ethical considerations associated with the introduction of mitochondrial donation into clinical practice are discussed. Overviews of recent Parliamentary debates and a House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee one off session are included in the note.

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology have provided two annexes to this note. They provide further information on other mitochondrial transfer methods and mitochondrial matching.

Commons Briefing papers SN06833

Authors: Sarah Barber; Peter Border

Topics: Diseases, Genetics, Medical ethics, Medicine, Science

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