The government has backed proposals for the introduction of three person IVF in the UK.
Draft regulations are expected to be released later this year, meaning that the procedure could be available in two years’ time.
It is hoped that the new procedure would help to eliminate debilitating and potentially fatal mitochondrial diseases that are passed on from mother to child.
Symptoms of the disorder can include muscle weakness, blindness and heart failure. The condition is thought to affect around one in every 6,500 people and it is hoped that up to 10 couples a year could be helped by the implementation of the new procedure.
However, the new proposals have been criticised for beginning what could be a ‘slippery slope’ of genetic intervention.
Dr David King of independent watchdog Human Genetics Alert said:
“If passed, this will be the first time any government has legalised inheritable human genome modification, something that is banned in all other European countries. The techniques have not passed the necessary safety tests so it is unnecessary and premature to rush ahead with legalisation.”
“It is a disaster that the decision to cross the line that will eventually lead to a eugenic designer baby market should be taken on the basis of an utterly biased and inadequate consultation.”
However, other medical professionals and genetic experts have praised the move and have expressed their support for the project.
The chief medical officer for England, Prof Dame Sally Davies, said: “Scientists have developed ground-breaking new procedures which could stop these disease being passed on, bringing hope to many families seeking to prevent their future children inheriting them.
“It’s only right that we look to introduce this life-saving treatment as soon as we can.”
She said there were “clearly some sensitive issues here” but said she was “personally very comfortable” with altering mitochondria.
“[Mitochondrial donation] would also keep the UK at the forefront of scientific development in this area. I want to encourage contributions to this consultation so that we have as many views as possible before introducing our final regulations.”