A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel provided some filler for the 24-hour news channels this week. The reason: discussion of mitochondrial replacement as a means of in-vitro fertilization (IVF). It involves a ‘donor’ cell which has its nucleus removed to receive the nucleus of the mother (it bears some resemblance to somatic-cell nuclear transfer, except there is an additional DNA source involved). This method could be used for situations where the mother has mitochondrial defects that could be passed on to the offspring.
The method gets the superficial cable news attention because the resulting offspring would have DNA from all three donors. While the Presidential Commission for the study of Bioethical Issues has not weighed in (it doesn’t meet again until June), the FDA panel discussed the state of science and research on the technique, as well as the design requirements for early-phase clinical trials. Researchers have produced monkeys via this IVF technique, but panel members were reluctant to recommend human trials at this time.
Over on the other side of the Atlantic, the U.K. is further along in regulating the technique. The appropriate advisory bodies started assessing mitochondrial replacement in 2011, and the government announced last year that it was working on regulations. It issued a consultation on Thursday for the draft regulations (questions of interest are on pages 27-28). Responses will be accepted until May 21.