Controversial IVF proposal in England

June 28, 2013 11:10:32 AM PDT
What if you could prevent sometimes fatal childhood diseases that happen more frequently than childhood cancers.

You might be able to do that with IVF, in vitro fertilization in the test tube. But there's a hitch, it takes three parents.

Twenty years ago, this technique might have been called weird science. Some experts still think of it like that now. It's a way to prevent life threatening genetic disease, illness caused by the energy factories in our cells, called mitochondria. It's being tossed about in England, and it's controversial as can be.)

In Vitro Fertilization used to be thought of as the sperm from the father injected into the egg from the mother. Just two people. But what if the mother's egg has faulty genes that can cause disease in the baby? The United Kingdom is pushing ahead with a controversial experiment in humans. They want to add some healthy genes from a third person.

"You want the best for your child and if they can stop these genetics, like hereditary genetic conditions being passed on, that's all well and good, that's an excellent thing," said Nicola Parker.

The problem are the mitochondria in a woman's egg. They churn out energy, but they also have a small piece of DNA which can have damaged genes. In one example, doctors would take the nucleus with the genes from each parent, and move it to the egg of a donor woman which has healthy mitochondria. No faulty genes, no disease in the baby.

"We're not trying to change how people are, were not touching the nuclear DNA which comes from both parents, makes us look as we are, act as we are, be as we are, it's about the power supply, the energy for the cells and only that," said Sally Davies, British Chief Medical Officer.

One British genetic watchdog group doesn't see it that way. Its director says the technique crosses the line of not altering human beings.

"Once we cross that line, we will inevitably step by step slowly slowly get to that future that everyone wants to avoid, of genetically modified designer babies and a market in children," said Dr. David King.

It will be at least several years before this method will be tried, if it proceeds. It's so controversial that three IVF experts to whom we spoke in three different cities refused to even comment on it.