A technique that would see IVF babies born with DNA from three different people is “not unlike” a blood transfusion, according to Professor Robert Winston.
The renowned scientist and broadcaster said the IVF technique, which will be debated by MPs in the House of Commons tomorrow, was compatible with his beliefs as an Orthodox Jew.
The treatments seek to replace defective mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) in a birth mother’s egg with healthy mDNA from another woman in order to limit hereditary mitochondrial diseases, and new research has suggested it could potentially help almost 2,500 women of reproductive age in the UK.
But it has sparked controversy, with the Church of England stating it did not feel a change in the law would be “responsible”.
Lord Winston, writing in the Daily Telegraph, said: “Transfusing mitochondria is not unlike transfusing red blood cells in a case of severe anaemia – the main difference being that the mitochondrial treatments last into future generations.
“As an Orthodox Jew, my religious tradition sees no objection to using science in this way. If mitochondrial treatments could prevent disease, this is to be celebrated as we are using the God-given intelligence afforded us.
“We are not altering a child’s characteristics, nor enhancing humans in any way. The scientists are merely trying to ensure that a crippling and sometimes fatal disease is prevented and that future generations will not suffer this horrific sadness.”
He added the widely-used three-parent child term was “nonsense” and being used to cause controversy over the technique.
The new regulations MPs will debate “make provision to enable mitochondrial donation” under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.
As well as receiving normal “nuclear” DNA from its mother and father, a child would also be given small amount of healthy mitochondrial mDNA from a woman donor.
Mitochondrial diseases can be devastating, affecting major organs and causing symptoms ranging from poor vision to diabetes and muscle wasting.
Scientists at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research at Newcastle University are among those pioneering mitochondrial donation and will be the first to offer the treatment if it gets the go-ahead.
But last week, the Rev Dr Brendan McCarthy, medical ethics adviser to the Church of England, warned against any change in legislation.
“The Archbishops’ Council, which monitors this issue, does not feel that there has been sufficient scientific study of informed consultation into the ethics, safety and efficacy of mitochondria transfer,” he said.
“Without a clearer picture of the role mitochondria play in the transfer of hereditary characteristics, the Church does not feel it would be responsible to change the law at this time.”