'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.

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