'Three-person embryos' to combat genetic diseases: your reaction?

(59 Posts)
HelenMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 21-Mar-13 13:06:22

Some of you may have seen this news story about British scientists possibly becoming the first to offer new treatments for incurable genetic diseases that would involve babies being born with DNA from three people.

We thought you might like to have a butcher's at our rather excellent <blows trumpet --and mixes metaphors--> Q&A about it all.

And, as ever, please do share your thoughts about it all here.

^"Chromosomal replacement would cross the Rubicon into germ-line genetic interventions"^

I don't think it does, really. Most people, as I mentioned above, have no real knowledge of their mitochondria containing DNA, and even if they have heard of it they do not consider that DNA to be part of their child's genetic make-up in any meaningful sense.

If the science was changing the structure of the nuclear DNA, the stuff that underlies almost everything about the child apart from the specific role that mitochondria play in metabolism, then yes I'd be very worried about it being a significant step into changing the germ line. But giving the child a set of mitochondria from another person does not change who they will grow up to be, or what their own children will be like. Apart from avoiding one very specific set of diseases of course, which can only be a good thing.

The resulting child will not have a set of DNA which has been "messed about with", they will have a set of nuclear DNA from their parents, and a set of mitochondrial DNA from a donor. That's nothing like "changing" a set of DNA to suit society's current prejudices, which ethicists are rightly going to worry about.

ILikeToMowIt Thu 21-Mar-13 20:56:31

AMumInScotland my sentiments exactly. I cannot see that mitochondrial donation - if they are "faulty"- is very much different to getting a donor kidney, heart, lungs, blood transfusion etc, with the exception that it obviously happens before birth.

Well, the difference is that the mitchondria will be passed on to her daughters, which a blood donation isn't. So, technically, the argument that they are changing the germ line (ie making a change which will be passed on, rather than one which will only affect this individual and not their descendants) is correct. But I think it is correct but unimportant and not anything like the same as changing the nuclear DNA would be.

sneezecakesmum Thu 21-Mar-13 21:32:57

Brilliant development. Anyone who doesnt think so is crazy or a catholic!

NB Nothing seriously against catholics, i am one officially, but I can see the church not going with this at all.

This is excellent and I am very pleased.

The only thing I would question is whether the egg donor should be treated like a tissue donor or should be treated like an egg donor (in that once a child born of this procedure were an adult they could trace them if they wished).

I filled in the survey on line about this a while back and initially on the question about anonymity, I put that I thought the donor should be anonymous. But before I finished the survey I went back and changed that answer. My reasoning was that a long time ago sperm and egg donors were anonymous and that caused a lot of heartache to some, (born from the process who could not trace donors) and may well have caused some sadness to donors who never knew what they kind donation had done.

So initially I thought what does it matter if it is anonymous but then I thought why it should be, why not have the chance for people to know.

Secrecy is not a good idea in my opinion.

I recognise fully that the use of the egg and mitochondrial donation are different, but I think at the very least donors and recipients should be given the option to remain non-anonymous.

I had treatment in the UK with donor eggs some years ago (unsuccessful) and one of my reasons for having treatment in the UK was that although anonymous during the process, had there been a child from treatment they could have traced the donor had they wished to when they were an adult.

It may seem a small thing but an egg donor in the mitochondrial donation sense is still playing a very special part in enabling someone to have a healthy baby and one day that baby may wish to say thank you.

Just my humble opinion and in no way to be negative because I think this news is very positive.

ICBINEG Thu 21-Mar-13 22:47:23

It actually seems very similar to bone marrow donation to me. You give someone some functioning cellular material to replace their own which is faulty. Bone marrow contains DNA too....so what?

chipmonkey Thu 21-Mar-13 22:55:20

This is brilliant news!

I have experience of looking after some patients who have a form of blindness which is mitochondrial in origin. Heartbreaking, particularly when I realised that one patient's new baby would inherit her condition. She had only been diagnosed after she had her baby.

Xenia Fri 22-Mar-13 09:00:38

re the Times letter above, I don't mind if we cross that line and those other countries who don't should consider it. The fact it is heritable is fine and is quite the point of it.

trustissues75 Fri 22-Mar-13 09:51:49

My first question was "What are the long term implications of this going to be?" But when a new drug comes out, ou can ask the same question...truth is we don't entirely know what the long term implications are going to be, but I don't see that as an argument to just walk away from the possibility.

I really wish the head-line wasn't so sensationalist - I did immediately balk at it because I immediately thought - well hang on, three people in one person....we've got some major ethical/moral issues here...but it's mitochondrial anyhow (As an aside did anyone watch the programme with Eddie Izzard? Fascinating stuff to think there actually likely really was an Eve; I'm still trying to get my head around it)

No matter how much good something can do there's always the opposite potential to do terrible terrible things with the same discovery - you can't eradicate that because humanity is what it is - you can't eradicate bad from the planet (and would't' that be a form of Eugenics anyway, if we were to look for the "bad" genes in people and prevented them from being passed on?) But again, just because it could be used for bad, is that a reason to walk away and ignore the good it could do?

Trills Fri 22-Mar-13 09:53:38

Didn't we have a thread about this a couple of months ago where we were asked "what do you think about it?"

trustissues75 Fri 22-Mar-13 09:54:47

Italiangreyhound - I agree that the "tissue" doners should be on a register - I once watched a documentary about people who felt there was something missing because they only new one half of who they were, and whilst it's only mitochondria, who's to day that even though that DNA is separate form the DNA that makes us "us" doesn't still have some sort of psychological impact on an individual.

Trills Fri 22-Mar-13 09:55:54

Ah, I didn't remember it being "ask us questions for a Q&A"...

notcitrus Fri 22-Mar-13 10:50:51

Back in 2001 I was at a conference where we were asked if we agreed to banning altering the human germ line in ways that would affect future generations, and we signed up to it. This was when only Dolly the sheep and a few other cloned animals had been made, many of which died in utero or young for unexplained reasons. So the idea was to ensure fertility clinics in certain countries wouldnt try treatments very unlikely to work, and also prevent people trying to eliminate homosexuality or other traits. Preventing such diseases wasn't really considered back then.

Now we've moved on and more is possible and we already have 'three parent' children. Though this is still very experimental - the link above stresses they are only seeking a change in the law now so that when the technique is ready to try on humans, they dont have to fight the legal battles then.

So I agree it's time to revisit the law and international agreements, to allow exceptions in cases like these, where the alternative is a disease that definitely limits life. And we'll probably need to look at the law every decade or so for a while.

StiffyByng Fri 22-Mar-13 10:58:14

I'm watching my husband lose his second child to mitochondrial disease at 13. Horribly - her consultant says she has the most severe case he's ever come across without being dead. Her brother died at 9 months old. My ten year old stepson almost certainly has the same disease and he must now wait to see what it might do to him. Their mother died at 37 from the disease. Her sister is also genetically affected and at least one of her children looks likely to have inherited it. Bring on the three parent monster babies, I say. They won't suffer like this.

megandraper Fri 22-Mar-13 11:36:09

StiffyByng, I am so sorry for your stepchildren, and for your husband, and you.

SpringHare - I am so sorry for your loss.

Your stories bring it all into context. Of course this is the right thing to do. It is so sad though that it won't help those who already have the disease, or who have children without knowing that they have it. More research required to help those.

Diamondcassis Fri 22-Mar-13 23:34:43

Tigger in what way does that list of signatories strike you? I suspect it strikes me in the opposite way. Looks like they aim to sound impressive but are scientificallly invalid.

lljkk Sat 23-Mar-13 09:59:44

I approve.

OneHandFlapping Sat 23-Mar-13 10:08:01

I can't see a probem with it. Fewer children will have to live with debilitating mitochondrial diseases. I can't see a down side.

I also can't see a problem with designer babies - except the technology isn't there.

HarderToKidnap Sat 23-Mar-13 11:35:23

Why couldn't they use the father's mitochondrial DNA? (Unless he also happens to carry mitochondrial disease). Sidesteps the human element of the three people dilemma.

lljkk Sat 23-Mar-13 12:57:26

I think answer is along these lines... The MtDNA has to come from a ripe developed female (unfertilised egg). Don't have the technology to get any cell of a body to make mtDNA in the right condition. So has to be a female donor and the point of this technology is to help would-be mothers whose own mtDNA is always faulty, so they can't donate it either.

LineRunner Sat 23-Mar-13 13:05:12

That list of objectors includes the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family so I whilst I agree that the ramifications of new medical possibilities need to be debated and legislated for, I see in that list of objectors the word 'agenda' running through it.

Talkinpeace Sat 23-Mar-13 13:20:25

oh dear me. I am new to this site so please bear with me?? mitochondrial DNA is from MUM.. . . her egg. it allows 'science' to track mums back to 'Eve' or Olduvie Gorge 'Lucy' if you preference is for non-religious references. Boys sperm does not have space for this feature- while females - that is eggs DO. So moving the Mt DNA from one alive individual to one possible to be born individual is in some ways a great leap forward. In other ways; is it? what makes humans think they have the automatic right to have descendants when they have disease/disorders/incompatible with life??? bear in mind please that i personally think that once a human is born we should do everything possible to ensure that human has a full and integrated life. But if science gives us the gifts should we allow all to be born - then it follows that if the disorder is life threatening or limiting are we not being selfish in saying WE want kids because WE want them?????????????????????

Talkinpeace Sat 23-Mar-13 22:33:31

slow
but on the other hand, if the parents have otherwise strong genes and their children could actively contribute to society, does one problem that can now be overcome preclude that.

funnyperson Sat 23-Mar-13 23:46:57

I think the problem here is that not all mitochondrial dna is responsible for known mitochondrial diseases. We still dont know what the function or importance of all the mitochondrial dna is. We still only know a part of the story.

To replace all of a person's mitochondrial dna replaces their total maternal mitochondrial dna heritage, not just the potential disease causing bits.

We also don't have adequate clinical trials yet on potential side effects and/or adverse effects to the created embryo or its offspring.

Mitochondrial dna is very exciting. I, for one, am intrigued by the way it runs true in maternal generations. I have a theory that it could be responsible for intelligence and survival of the fittest. Would the embryo, if given the choice, want its biological mother's mitochondrial dna, or not? To cure mitochondrial myopathy would be fantastic but the technique is not yet precise enough in my view.

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