'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.

I think it's brilliant that they seem likely to be going ahead with this.

The "DNA from 3 people" worry is a red herring, IMHO. Most people didn't even know they had mitochondria with separate DNA before this story started to be widely read (and many probably still don't, let alone care). The DNA in question isn't going to give the child red hair and blue eyes, or affect them in any way apart from protecting them from serious debilitating illness.

The HFEA recommendation that the third person is treated as a "tissue donor" seems fair to me - she has donated some tissue, not the nucleus of an egg (or sperm), and is therefore not in a meaningful sense another "parent" to the resulting child.

I think it's brilliant and so amazing. It's a long long way from 'designer babies' in my humble opinion and will hopefully be the start of eradicating some nasty mitochonrial dna conditions.

CMOTDibbler Thu 21-Mar-13 14:03:34

^^ What AMuminScotland said - its not DNA from 3 people in the way the vast majority of people think.

And, considering that the only way you would know that you have a mitochondrial problem is to have a life limited child, I totally support this being available to couples who need/want to use this technique

Herrenamakesagreatwelshcake Thu 21-Mar-13 14:03:35

Hasn't this technology been available for some time? I am glad it seems to be getting more attention as a viable option for eradicating genetic disease - sounds like a winner.

ICBINEG Thu 21-Mar-13 14:59:34

This is amazing and should definitely get the green light. I love the fact that this essentially eradicates the diseases as the mitochondrial DNA is passed onwards through the generations.

megandraper Thu 21-Mar-13 15:13:45

I agree that '3 person embryo' is a hysterical headline-grabbing description. I am in favour of the treatment.

Writehand Thu 21-Mar-13 15:14:20

I think it's brilliant. Some of the media coverage has been entirely misleading and seems intended to provoke widespread anxiety and hostility to the procedure. I looked on the dreaded Daily Mail site and found a moving, passionate post that I'm pasting below:

A CHILD LIKE MINE Do you have a child like mine? Do you wake each morning and rush to their side to check their breathing, heart rate, their coloring? Do you prepare each medication with care, pouring and measuring, administering slowly one at a time? Do you tightly hold their hand as they rise from their bed holding back the urge to crush them to your breast so glad that they are still here? Do you beg them to take another bite of food but they refuse as they can't digest it and vomit each meal? Do you sit watching as they struggle to do what we find so basic? Do you travel far, seeking the very best care, in hopes they will have answers, only to receive none? Do you dream of what the future holds should they have one, when the doctors give you little hope? Do you wish to begin again reliving each precious moment with your child, realizing how precious each moment really is? Do you wish for another year, for life to continue on? Do you wish for a cure? Will you help us?

This procedure is a real medical achievement. A solid bit of progress. And I assume that, in the long term, it will eventually eradicate certain congenital diseases. I send flowers to the scientists.

Talkinpeace Thu 21-Mar-13 15:44:07

Mitochondrial diseases can be eradicated.
BRING IT ON.

The next tranche of Nobel prizes for Medicine will be in understanding the endocrine system.
The SOONER THE BETTER

It is indeed a "hysterical headline-grabbing description". Mitochondrial DNA is completely separate from normal DNA and is only transferred from the mother anyway - IIFC it's bacterial in origin, so no different from having your gut bacteria changed to prevent ulcers! So what if it comes from somewhere else, all the features that make a child yours and your partners will still be there - all the "human" heritable traits are on chromosomes, not in the mitochondria.

A fantastic piece of science.

Apropos of nothing I love the fact that HelenMN had a strikeout fail grin

Oh and what everyone else said. Brilliant medical advancement.

drjohnsonscat Thu 21-Mar-13 16:11:23

I am a product of thousands of people's DNA, aren't I?

It will be a joyful day when they manage to eradicate some of the horrendous genetic diseases that blight lives.

SpringHare Thu 21-Mar-13 16:13:27

This is brilliant work and it is so important that it be used to help people. It is a subject very close to my heart and my family following the death of my beloved baby DS from possible mitochondrial disease, something we had never heard of until we were given his post-mortem results. We will never know for sure, because thus far the diagnostic technology cannot cover all possibilities in our case. So much more work is still needed. I have huge admiration for the team who have done this and the ways they care for their patients. It is motivated purely by a wish to prevent appalling suffering.

Anyone interested in more family stories and fundraising to fight mitochondrial disease might like to look at the Lily Foundation. They are fantastic people who support families and also work very closely with the research team who produced this breakthrough. If this news story makes you want to do something to help, I know they would make good use of any donations however small. I hope nobody minds me saying that, I just felt very glad of their support when so few people can understand. Just seeing more people learning about mitochondrial disease is a great development.

BourbonsAndTea Thu 21-Mar-13 16:40:55

Not that it's important but did the Daily Mail's helpful 'scientific' diagram purposefully contradict itself ? It shows the donor's genes being removed from the egg casing then in the paragraph below states that a child born of this procedure would have Genetics from 3 people.. that doesn't make sense does it? Correct me if I'm being silly though

Talkinpeace Thu 21-Mar-13 16:44:32

The child will have about 6% genetic material from the donor - margins of error in the process - but all of the expressed genes will be those of the official parents - without the risk of catastrophic mitochondrial disease

BourbonsAndTea Thu 21-Mar-13 16:47:46

I meant to say also that I hope parents and sufferers of genetic conditions can take solace in such medical advancements as these.

YouMakeMeWannaLaLa Thu 21-Mar-13 16:47:52

Amazing. Fantastic science and great news for those affected. My friend lost her 4 month old DS to Leigh's disease and decided not to have another because of the risk of having another child it. This gives hope.

AmberSocks Thu 21-Mar-13 16:48:51

im not sure really,im not a fan of things that are not natural in general,but i do think this is very clever and i wouldnt be against it happening,but it does make me feel a bit {hmm}

itsatiggerday Thu 21-Mar-13 16:50:33

OK I'm not a scientist and not at all clear on the details of this. But have copied from a letter to The Times y'day which gives an alternative opinion (since it's only available if you subscribe it's here in full but is long). The list of signatories strikes me in particular.

In the procedures being proposed, the chromosomes of unfertilised eggs or of newly conceived embryos are, in fact, replaced, and these are clearly examples, therefore, of germ-line genetic manipulation. The reconstructed egg or embryo will have an altered genetic composition that will be inheritable. It would be the first time such intentional genetic modifications of children and their descendants were expressly permitted and would open the door to further genetic alterations of human beings with unforeseeable consequences.

Chromosomal replacement would cross the Rubicon into germ-line genetic interventions. Moreover, we are concerned that these proposals for research and possible treatment which rely on egg donation will greatly increase the possibilities for the exploitation of egg donors.

Because of the implications for all of humanity, intentional germ-line interventions are prohibited in every national jurisdiction that has considered the issue. They are also banned under a number of international legal instruments, such as the Council of Europe’s Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine which prohibits the genetic modification of spermatozoa or ova for procreation.

We urge the Government to consider its international responsibilities. This is because persons created through germ-line interventions, which may subsequently be revealed to be detrimental, will be able to travel and have their own children abroad. For the UK to isolate itself from its duties by allowing “mitochondrial replacement” to take place without consulting its international partners would create a very serious precedent.

Professor David Albert Jones, Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Oxford; Professor Emmanuel Agius, Dean, Faculty of Theology, University of Malta; The Rev Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, Associate Professor of Biology, Providence College, RI, USA; Professor Stéphane Bauzon, State University Roma Tor Vergata, Italy; Professor Francoise Baylis Novel Tech Ethics, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada; Professor E. Christian Brugger Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary, Denver, Colorado, USA; Professor Donna Dickenson Professor Emeritus of Medical Ethics and Humanities, University of London; Professor Norman M. Ford, Catholic Theological College of the MCD University of Divinity, Brunswick, Australia; Professor Anne Barbeau Gardiner City University of New York, NY, USA; Professor Robert P. George McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University, NJ, USA; Professor Jozef Glasa, Institute of Health Care Ethics, Slovak Medical University in Bratislava, Slovak Republic; Professor Geoffrey Hunt, Centre For Bioethics and Emerging Technologies, St Mary’s University College, London; Professor Christian Illies Chair of Philosophy, Bamberg University, Germany; Dr June Jones, Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Ethics, University of Birmingham; Professor John F. Kilner Franklin Forman Chair of Ethics, Professor of Bioethics and Contemporary Culture, Director of Bioethics Degree Programs, Trinity International University, Deerfield, IL, USA; Mr John Kleinsman, Director, The Nathaniel Centre, The New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre, Wellington, New Zealand; Professor Regine Kollek, Professor of Health Technology Assessment, University of Hamburg, Germany; The Rev Joseph W. Koterski, Department of Philosophy, Fordham University, Bronx, NY, USA; Professor Mette Lebech, Department of Philosophy, National University of Ireland, Maynooth; Professor Abby Lippman, McGill University, Montreal, Canada; Professor Natalia López-Moratalla, Professor of Biochemistry, La Universidad de Navarra, Pamplona, Spain; Professor Calum MacKellar, Director of Research, Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, Edinburgh; Professor Nur Masalha, St Mary’s University College, London; Dr Pia Matthews, Lecturer in Healthcare Ethics, St Mary’s University College, London; The Rev Kevin McGovern, Director, Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics, East Melbourne, Australia; Dr John McLean; Dr Emilio Mordini, Centre for Science, Society and Citizenship, Rome; Professor Anselm Winfried Mueller Professor of Ethics at Keimyung University, Daegu, South Korea; Dr Dónal O’Mathúna, Senior Lecturer in Ethics, Decision-Making & Evidence, School of Nursing and Human Sciences, Dublin City University, Ireland; Professor Craig Payne, Professor of Humanities, Indian Hills College, Iowa, USA; Professor Hilary Rose, Professor Emeritus of Physik, Gresham College, London; Professor Ingrid Schneider, Centre for Biotechnology, Society and the Environment, Research Group Medicine, University of Hamburg, Germany; Professor Joseph Shaw, Department of Philosophy, Oxford University; Professor Jiri Simek, Chair for Ethics and Philosophy in Helping Professions University of South Bohemia in Ceske Budejovice Faculty for Health and Social Studies, Czech Republic; Dr Robert J. Song, Senior Lecturer in Christian Ethics, Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University; Dr Trevor G. Stammers, Programme Director in Bioethics and Medical Law, St Mary’s University College, London; Dr Agneta Mauléon Sutton Visiting Lecturer, Heythrop College, University of London; Professor Rodney Taylor, Fellow, Faculty of the History and Philosophy of Medicine, Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, Middlesex; Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filippini, Associate Dean and Head of Bioethics, John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Lateran University, Rome, Italy; Dr Verena Tschudin, Visiting Senior Fellow, University of Surrey; Professor Günter Virt University of Vienna, Austria; Dr Helen Watt Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Oxford

itsatiggerday - they may be right that it's the start of a slippery slope. But Pandora's box has been opened.

The technology exists for a huge variety of genetic manipulations, for humans as much as for yeast of bacteria. And as such, there is potential for huge amounts of good to be done, as is the case here with a heritable disease potentially being cured. But also, as those signatories fear, the potential for harm - eugenics, designer babies etc etc.

Instead of sticking their fingers in their ears and going "LA LA LA LA LA it's all illegal can't do that" as those signatories above appear to be doing, perhaps the better move is for world scientists and governments to get together to draw up very clear deadlines as to what is beneficial to humanity and what is vanity/eugenics. Tricky, but it needs doing, because the research can't be undone, and human beings shouldn't be made to suffer needlessly when there is a cure, for fear of what might be done with the same technology.

Talkinpeace Thu 21-Mar-13 17:01:32

not a fan of things that are not natural in general
nor are antibiotics, painkillers, surgery, modern medicines, orthodontics, spectacles

re that letter
its a fair point, and I suspect a lot of them are pretty pissed that they are out of the running for the Nobel prize
BUT
the lady on Radio 4 was saying that it will only be available to those families with proven risk of serious mitochondrial diseases

also, effective germ-line interventions are already common because of pretesting of embryos and disposal of those with unwanted characteristics - genetic statistics have long gone out the window.

Tailtwister Thu 21-Mar-13 17:33:17

I think it's amazing and a huge step forward in the eradication of mitochondrial DNA conditions. If was personally affected, I'm sure I would take advantage of the treatment. However, I have already benefited from some fairly ground breaking research (in it's day), since our first DC is an IVF baby. Yes, there is always the risk of the unknown (the very long term affects of IVF are still to be seen), but it's a risk we were willing to take.

Januarymadness Thu 21-Mar-13 17:44:52

I think the list of objectors has quite a lot of religious input and very little geneticists input. Says it all for me.

Mitochondrial DNA is a fascinating subject.

I have no problem with this concept whatsoever.

drjohnsonscat Thu 21-Mar-13 17:59:17

Everytime we do anything we open up a pandora's box of possible ethical dilemmas. We should thank god (or whoever) that we have the thinking skills to think through these ethical dilemmas and work out what to do for the best for the sake of humankind.

Science doesn't stop us having to think through ethical problems - sometimes it will present us with ethical problems but we shouldn't refuse to consider scientific solutions because we might have to do some ethical thinking as a result.

Does anyone really think the world is a worse place for having anaesthesia, IVF, organ transplants? All these things were once a "Pandora's Box" and a cause for moral panic. But we are adapable and thoughtful beings and we found a way to use all of these technologies for the good of us all.

ILikeToMowIt Thu 21-Mar-13 18:41:57

I think this is an excellent development, and am happy that it will save a lot of heartache.

Perhaps couples couples with mitochondrial trouble should get donor egg (mitochondria) from dad-to-be's mother, sister or cousin (mother's sister's daughter). This would mean that the baby inherits the same mitochondrial DNA as their dad has... that is even a bit less "DNA of 3 people".
And actually: no the altered DNA is not necessarily inheritable, as only a girl baby will pass on her mitochondria.

^"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.

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.

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....

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now