LONDON — Britain’s fertility regulator on Wednesday confirmed the births of the U.K.’s first babies created using an experimental technique combining DNA from three people, an effort to prevent the children from inheriting rare genetic diseases. Britain’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority said fewer than five babies have been born this way in the U.K. but did not provide further details to protect the families’ identities.
The genetic defects can result in diseases such as muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, heart problems and intellectual disabilities. About one in 200 children in Britain is born with a mitochondrial disorder. To date, 32 patients have been authorized to receive such treatment.
For a woman with faulty mitochondria, scientists take genetic material from her egg or embryo, which is then transferred into a donor egg or embryo that still has healthy mitochondria but had the rest of its key DNA removed. The fertilized embryo is then transferred into the womb of the mother. The genetic material from the donated egg comprises less than 1% of the child created from this technique.
Many critics oppose the artificial reproduction techniques, arguing there are other ways for people to avoid passing on diseases to their children, such as egg donation or screening tests, and that the experimental methods have not yet been proven safe.
Others warn that tweaking the genetic code this way could be a slippery slope that eventually leads to designer babies for parents who not only want to avoid inherited diseases but to have taller, stronger, smarter or better-looking children.
Doctors in the U.S. were the first to announce the world’s first baby using the mitochondria donation technique, after the treatment was conducted in Mexico.