The HFEA has today launched a public consultation on the ethics of new IVF-based techniques designed to prevent inherited forms of mitochondrial DNA disorders.

The consultation will garner public views on the question of whether techniques to replace ‘faulty’ mitochondria with healthy mitochondria from a donor egg, should be introduced into treatment for UK patients who are at risk of having a child with a mitochondrial DNA disorder. At present, such techniques are may only be used lawfully in research settings.

There are currently no cures for mitochondrial DNA disorders, and the most severe forms can cause problems including heart malfunction, muscle weakness, kidney disease, liver disease, stroke, dementia, blindness or deafness and premature death.

The ethical issues raised by the development of techniques that aim to prevent the transmission of mitochondrial disorders from mother to child were the subject of a six-month inquiry by the Council earlier this year. The Council’s report concluded that given the significant health and social benefits to individuals who could be born free from mitochondrial disorders if this treatment was shown to work, it would be an ethical option for families to have access to such techniques. However, the Council highlighted that this conclusion could only stand if techniques such as pronuclear transfer and maternal spindle transfer were proven through further research to be both safe and effective, and if the families involved were offered an appropriate level of information and support. .

The findings of the HFEA consultation will be reported to the Department of Health in March 2013.