Two cases have been approved in the UK for using a three-parent baby technique to make healthy babies. The technique has already been used in China and Ukraine

Three-parent babies could be born in the UK this year. Two cases have been approved by the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to take place at Newcastle’s Fertility Centre at Life.

The births will not be the first using this technique – that milestone was reached by John Zhang and his colleagues in New York, as revealed by New Scientist in 2016. Since then, other pregnancies and births have been reported in Ukraine.

However, the UK is the only country so far to have officially approved the use of a mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT) technique, and only to prevent children from inheriting severe mitochondrial disorders.

Following this approval, the Newcastle team were granted a license to perform the procedure in 2016, and it has now been revealed that the HFEA has since approved two specific cases.

Since the approvals were granted in August and October last year, the procedures may have already taken place. A spokesperson for Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said the Trust cannot confirm whether this is the case, in the interest of protecting patient confidentiality.

The procedure is similar to IVF but uses genetic material from three people. It was developed for women who have genetic mutations in the DNA of their mitochondria – organelles that power a cell. Because this DNA is only passed to infants from their mothers, such children can be born with fatal diseases.

MRT techniques essentially swap a woman’s defective mitochondrial DNA with that of a donor. The resulting embryo’s DNA will mostly come from the two parents who supplied the egg and sperm, but a tiny proportion – a fraction of a percentage – will come from the donor.

In both approved cases, the women have a genetic mutation that causes a condition called MERRF syndrome. Minutes from the HFEA’s approval meeting describe this as “a devastating, progressive, neurodegenerative disorder, impacting considerably on quality of life and long-term survival”.

Read more: UK becomes first country to give go ahead to three-parent babies

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