Following its public consultation on the ethics and science of mitochondrial replacement techniques, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has today announced its advice to the Government on novel treatments that could prevent the transmission of inherited mitochondrial DNA disorders.

The Council previously explored the ethical issues raised by the possible use of these techniques in its June 2012 report, which aimed to ensure that the ethical considerations were fully aired before the HFEA consultation and public dialogue got underway, and to help inform that process.

At today’s Authority meeting, the HFEA reported that they found ‘broad public support’ for the techniques to be offered to families at risk of passing on serious mitochondrial disorders, provided that the treatments are assessed to be safe, and that they are provided within a carefully regulated framework.

Much of the HFEA’s advice to Ministers regarding policies and safeguards that would need to be implemented should the techniques be permitted for use in treatment is generally in line with the conclusions of the Council’s report, including for example the recommendations that mitochondria donors should not mandatorily be identifiable to resulting children born from their donation, and that follow up studies should be conducted.

Hugh Whittall, Director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, said:

“In its 2012 report the Council concluded that the two new techniques represent an ethically acceptable treatment option for families affected by mitochondrial disorders, provided further research shows they are likely to be sufficiently safe and effective, and that families are offered appropriate information and support. Any treatment would need to be provided under strict regulation, and long term follow up of any children born via this method would be crucial.

Given that only some elements of the donor egg are used, not including the cell nucleus, we have taken the view that mitochondria donors should not be treated in the same way as egg donors for IVF, for example, they should not be required later to be identifiable to those born from their donation.

The Council concluded that the proposed treatments would be a form of germline therapy, as changes resulting from the replacement of mitochondrial DNA would be passed on to the descendants of any girls born from the techniques. However, there is a clear line between these particular techniques and germline therapies that would act on the nuclear genome. These would involve further ethical considerations and would need to be considered entirely separately.”

Related links

Read the HFEA press release

Read the Council’s conclusions and ethical considerations

Read more on our Nuff’ said blog