Babies with three biological parents could be conceived in the UK as early as next year, after the British Health Secretary invited scientists to advise whether he should approve a new IVF technique for preventing severe inherited diseases, The (London) Times reported Friday.
Andrew Lansley asked the fertility watchdog to convene an expert panel to consider the safety and effectiveness of the procedure, the first step towards possible approval.
The therapy, developed by a team led by Professor Doug Turnbull at Newcastle University, is designed to replace faulty versions of structures called mitochondria inherited from mothers.
Mitochondrial failure can cause fatal liver, neurological and heart conditions.
The treatment involves merging DNA from two fertilized eggs, so that malfunctioning mitochondria are replaced by healthy ones. As mitochondria contain small amounts of DNA, a child conceived that way would inherit genetic material from three parents, though 99.8 percent would be from the mother and father.
It is illegal to place embryos created that way into the womb, but the 2008 Human Fertilization and Embryology Act gave the Health Secretary the power to rescind the ban without primary legislation.
If Lansley approves clinical use of the therapy, his decision is likely to be put to a vote in both Houses of Parliament. If the ban is lifted, Turnbull could apply for a license to treat patients.
The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority committee has asked scientists with relevant expertise to submit evidence by Tuesday, which will be reviewed on March 25. The panel is expected to set out the evidence that Turnbull would have to provide.
He said: "We are doing this work to allow women who carry mitochondrial DNA mutations to have the chance of having normal children. You have only got to look at the distress caused in these families to see the need for this. We're not saying we're ready to go just yet, but there is a lot of evidence out there to suggest that point is close."
Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, which opposes embryo research, said:"This is a form of genetic engineering which raises serious safety and social concerns, and challenges our concepts of the nature of parenthood."