'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.

minibird69 Sun 24-Mar-13 22:39:00

Yes, of course I've read up on the subject.  My heart goes out to those who have been bereaved, and those who are suffering, and my admiration to those who are researching cures.

I'll admit my post was blunt and somewhat provocative, but there is an old wives saying "prevention is better than cure" and there is the option here of prevention even if it is less exciting from a scientific point of view.

But if not contraception, trusted IVF alternative is already available to those that really want to have a baby and it produces happy families with no germline modification, DNA experimentation on as yet unborn children and our future generations. 

Stiffybing, your last point is very salient and nudges at the problem that we dont fully know what mitochondrial disease is, we know it can be deadly sometimes, but the symptoms could also just be undesirable, which is where the ethical debate on designer babies would come in.  

Perhaps we should understand more using stem cell research before we are so arrogant as to make unilateral ethical decisions that will irreversibly change the agreed scientific boundaries on a global scale.

Either way I know for certain that  I wouldn't choose to offer my offspring up for experimentation. I'd put a condom on it and hoik my pants ... or maybe choose IVF, adoption or cats.

StiffyByng Sun 24-Mar-13 13:02:02

The problem with that would be finding someone on the female line without a mutation. The tricky thing about mitochondrial mutations is that they affect everyone differently so one person can die from it, a sibling could be chronically ill and a third unaffected. Random testing in the US suggests that 1 in 10 people has some mitochondrial disfunction-far fewer than ever know about it. Increasingly diseases are being linked to mitochondria that were previously not viewed in that way. There is thinking for example that there might be a link to ME.

trustissues75 Sun 24-Mar-13 11:20:26

January - there are instances where it can be inherited from the father - not sure how, when or why, don't know enough about it really - but that's an interesting thought.

Januarymadness Sun 24-Mar-13 11:06:55

MtDNA is inherited solely from the mother. Would I be correct on saying that mitochodrial illnesses are down to mutations? so basically if you took MtDNA from a relation on the same female line you would just be giving the egg the MtDNA it should have had?

StiffyByng Sun 24-Mar-13 10:27:10

Most children die of severe mitochondrial disease before their fifth birthday, very often in their first year. If you'd like to say to those parents that they just resign themselves to having dodgy genes and stick a condom on, when science offers them a way to have children who will not die, then go ahead.

Hopefully stem cell research will also lead us to the possibility of effective treatment for mitochondrial disease. Also a controversial issue for some. Genetic research is galloping ahead in this area. In just two years for example it moved from diagnosis via muscle biopsy that couldn't necessarily prove anything and couldn't give you much information on the type of disease, and which took months to grow, to diagnosis of precise genetic dysfunction from a swab. Progress like this is incredibly heartening.

OddBoots Sun 24-Mar-13 08:43:18

The more we know about our DNA the more we know it is a long way from being all of the story. Our epigenome (simply speaking things that turn sections of our DVA on and off depending on our environment, some of which is passed on to future generations) plays a much more significant role in how we develop than we imagined just a few years ago.

It is worth having the discussion about this and its social implications and I'm sure this method will be regarded as a crude and non-precise technique in the future but for the benefits it could bring it is not an unreasonable medical advance.

lljkk Sun 24-Mar-13 08:28:16

I think you can extend same argument to state that medical intervention should never be used for anything.
It's a free country, folk can make their own decisions about taking such chances. You can hoik judgey pants or you can offer them an alternative.

trustissues75 Sun 24-Mar-13 08:17:40

Mini - have you actually gone and read about this subject at all? In all the cases I have read about the parent's haven't even HEARD of the condition before their child has gotten sick..so how could they possibly know? The only way to solve that problem is for couples to undergo complete genetic profiling before getting pregnant - I can really see the NHS coughing up for that....

minibird69 Sun 24-Mar-13 00:17:59

Um, call me controversial but has anyone considered that condoms might be a very good alternative? Personally if I knew that I was likely to pass on a genetc dysfunction I'd have considered other options before genetic alteration of my childs DNA with unknown consequences for future generations of my family.

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.

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.

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 13:20:25
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.

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.

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.

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.

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

I approve.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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 09:53:38

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

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