Historic move – yes to three-parent IVF

Written by Elena Conroy

The UK Parliament voted in favor of three-parent IVF, which will allow mothers who have mitochondrial disease to have healthy children.

Earlier this month the UK Parliament voted in favor of three-parent IVF, or mitochondrial transfer, which aims to prevent a group of terrible diseases called mitochondrial disorders. This newly approved technique will allow mothers who have mitochondrial disease to have healthy children. The method in question consists in children being produced by three genetic parents: two mothers and one father. One genetic mother would provide the nuclear DNA whilst the other contributes mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondria have their own DNA including genes, albeit many fewer genes than nuclear DNA.

According to a study recently published the New England Journal of Medicine, approximately 12,423 women in the USA between the ages of 15 and 44 are at risk of passing mitochondrial diseases to their children.

Currently, a woman with a family history of mitochondrial diseases or a child with such a disease has few options if she wants to give birth to healthy children:

1. She can undergo an egg retrieval process at an in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinic, in which preimplantation genetic diagnosis selects eggs with the lowest number of mutant mitochondrial DNA to reduce risk of the child developing mitochondrial disease. However, this method does not fully eliminate this risk and the woman will have to elect to have no future children.

2. She can use the egg of a donor, but her child will not be genetically related to her.

This new technique, however, will allow patients with mitochondrial disease to become one step closer to having healthy children that are genetically related to them.

Nevertheless, there are various concerns and aspects that need to be considered. For instance, the potential outcomes from the technology are still vague, there are safety concerns, and there are profound bioethical issues to be raised, such as changing the human genome heritably.

Despite the concerns there are some very positive views about this development. The New York Stem Cell Foundation research institute, who is one of the leading groups that developed the technique used for mitochondrial transfer, fully supported the UK Parliament to pass the law that would allow for mitochondrial donation in the UK.“The New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) praises the United Kingdom’s active role in bringing mitochondrial replacement therapy to patients. The UK Parliament’s upcoming debate regarding the regulations of mitochondrial donation represents an important step forward in the prevention of devastating diseases,” stated CEO and Co-Founder of The New York Stem Cell Foundation Susan Solomon on January 30th, days before the debate by Parliament. “NYSCF strongly supports mitochondrial donation and advocates for the UK parliament to pass the government’s proposed regulations that would allow for mitochondrial donation in the UK.”

As expected, there is quite a lot of debate on the matter; however, we hope future studies will be positive to ensure efficacy and safety of the technique to begin human trials.

What is your take on this? Do you support or oppose this decision? Is science going too far or will this be the future?


1.Statement by The New York Stem Cell Foundation on the UK Parliament’s Debate on Mitochondrial Donation: http://nyscf.org/pdfs2/2015_1_30_UK_Parliament_debate_on_mitochondrial_replacement.pdf

2.Ipscell blog post: http://www.ipscell.com/2015/02/humangmo/

3.Gorman GS, Grady JP, Turnbull DM et al. Mitochondrial Donation – How Many Women Could Benefit? N. Engl. J. Med. doi:10.1056/NEJMc1500960 (2015) (Epub ahead of print)

4.Susan Solomon’s editorial in Roll Call: http://www.rollcall.com/news/the_government_can_save_lives_right_now_commentary-239949-1.html

For more information read the below links, and also feel free to share your views in the comments section below:

-Three-parent IVF fact sheet from NYSCF: http://nyscf.org/pdfs2/FAQ_on_Mitochondrial_Replacement_Therapy.pdf

-United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation: http://www.umdf.org/site/pp.aspx?c=8qKOJ0MvF7LUG&b=7934629

-BBC News story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-31069173

-Quartz article: http://qz.com/337701/make-way-for-three-parent-babies/