July 11, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

UK OKs 3-Person IVF: Perspectives

With the House of Lords vote yesterday, the UK officially became the only country in the world to have legalized human genetic modification via 3-Person IVF. The point of this “mitochondrial transfer” or “3-person IVF” technology is not directly to genetically modify humans specifically, but it still will lead to that result in any case.

3-person IVF
3-person IVF

The noble goal of this experiment is to prevent mitochondrial disease, but it is not quite that simple as the children produced (if any healthy children are produced) would have genomic elements from 3 human beings even if one of them contributes about 1000 times less than the other two. I would still call that a genetic modification. For example, plants and animals with even a single gene transferred to them from elsewhere are defined as GMOs.

Now we can hope that this technology is safe and effective, but we can and should do more than hope.

We can continue to ask for data, transparency, and accountability as this work proceeds. I’m not so sure that these elements are part of the law that passed as some had said that reporting of outcomes would not be required. Does anyone know for sure?

The proponents and practitioners-to-be of this work in the UK have, to use their own words yesterday, “won”. As they proceed with this experiment, I believe that they should account for every single mitochondrial transfer embryo implanted in women using this technology and publicly report the outcome data for each. Healthy birth? Miscarriage? Developmental Disorder? Problem in childhood later on? Genome integrity?

It is medically and scientifically crucial for the scientists and doctors involved to collect and publicly report all this data in a timely manner. This can be done while still protecting the privacy of the families involved.

I hope very single one is a healthy child, but as with all experiments there is no way to be sure in advance.

For another view of 3-person IVF, see this CGS opinion piece.

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