29 Aug 2014
The UK Government is considering legalising a specialised form of IVF called mitochondrial donation, which aims to prevent potentially fatal mitochondrial disease. As Parliament prepares to debate the issue on Monday 1 September, Jane Bunce tries to clear up confusion over the science behind the technique ― and explains why it will not lead to creation of “designer babies”.
What is mitochondrial disease?
An estimated one in 6,500 children will develop a serious mitochondrial condition, which is passed down from mother to child. There is no cure and symptoms include seizures, strokes, blindness, deafness, heart and liver failure ― and in serious cases, death at a young age.
The diseases are due to faults in a child’s mitochondria, which are often described as the “battery packs” of our cells. These mitochondria are small structures in human cells that convert the food we eat into energy we need to stay alive. If these mitochondria don’t work correctly, cells don’t have enough energy and the tissues or organs they make up do not function properly. [...]