Scientists have created embryos with ‘two mums’ during research that could help eradicate a host of genetic diseases. The new fertility technique, developed by researchers from Newcastle University, swaps DNA between eggs.
Mitochondrial diseases can lead to heart failure, blindness and diabetes, and they are incurable. But researchers have now extracted the DNA from a fertilised egg and placed it into a donor egg with working mitochondria, which could lead to the first genetically altered babies being born in Britain.
Mitochondria only exist to generate energy and have no effect on future characteristics. “It’s like changing the battery on a laptop,” said Professor Doug Turnball, who led the research. “The energy supply now works but none of the information has been changed. A child born using this method would have correctly functioning mitochondria, but in every other respect would get all their genetic information from their mother and father.”
Mum Sharon Bernandi, who has a form of the mitochondria disease, lost six of her children hours after they were born. Her only surviving son, Edward, 20, needs constant care. “It would be amazing if scientists and doctors can prevent this,” said the 44-year-old, from Sunderland.
The team hopes to offer the technique to women within the next three years, but ethical challenges lie ahead. It is currently illegal to create babies using embryos which have been manipulated in the laboratory, and some campaigners have also criticised the creation of embryos, saying it ‘distorts’ nature.