MP Julian Huppert has fought for government support for a controversial technique which could prevent children suffering from mitochondrial diseases.
Julian, who used to work on DNA at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, told Parliament yesterday (Monday, September 1) that he couldn’t understand how opponents of mitochondrial replacement would want to continue to inflict suffering on so many children.
He said that mitochondrial disorders are “absolutely awful” and added: “Cells fail to function and people can get seizures, strokes, blindness, deafness, heart failure, lung failure and liver failure.
“Most of the people afflicted will not survive to adulthood. There is no treatment and no cure, and about one in 6,500 babies born will suffer from something like this. I simply do not understand how opponents of this can argue that they want to continue to inflict that sort of suffering on so many children, because that is the consequence of not finding a way to treat these disorders.”
Mitochondria are small components of cells, which act as the power sources for the cells. They contain a very small amount of DNA – 0.1 per cent of the total.
Mitochondrial replacement involves a technique which allows mothers with a genetic fault in their mitochondria to bear healthy children by replacing the faulty mitochondria in the mother’s egg with healthy mitochondria from a donor egg. But for this to happen, regulations have to be passed by Parliament.
This has sometimes been described as resulting in ‘three-parent children’. Julian told Parliament, however: “I have not heard people say that if someone is given an organ donation and they have someone else’s organ inside them, they then have four parents because they have a lot of different DNA inside them which could interact.
“I think—I would hope—that all of us support organ donation, because it has saved many, many lives. Why should we not allow what is, in effect, mitochondrial donation?”
Julian said regulations were needed urgently so that clinical trials could go ahead, allowing children to be freed from these awful diseases.
“I understand and appreciate that some people have genuine religious or ethical objections about interfering with an embryo,” he added. “They are entirely welcome to make that case, but they should not claim other reasons as a cover for that. People are welcome to their ethical opinions—that is fine—but to say that we should not do this because we should wait indefinitely for more and more tests, so that we can be more and more sure before we ever try it in a human is simply to condemn more children to more pain and more anguish.”
Later Julian said: “Every day that we delay in allowing scientists to move forward on this valuable research, we sentence more children to live and die in agony. That to me is inhumane and I cannot sanction that.
“We have the opportunity to reduce that suffering and give mothers with this specific genetic fault the chance to have healthy babies; we can’t afford to wait.”