Three parent fertility could become IVF lifesaver
IT has been labelled Frankenstein science, but highly controversial "three parent fertility" technology designed to wipe out genetic diseases in families is almost certainly coming to Queensland under proposed new laws.
The decision to alter the nation's cloning laws and bring the technology, which is already used in the UK, to Australia is in consultation phase, but a top Queensland fertility doctor says he is sure it will come to the state and it is not as ethically horrific as it sounds.
The Australian Government has asked The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHRMC) to invite public opinion on the process, which combines DNA from the eggs of two women to remove malfunctioning genes, and that feedback comes to an end this month.
But a Queensland forensic DNA specialist says children created as a result of these techniques will challenge important kinship and familial matching in forensic DNA labs in the state in the future.
There could be problems in the identification of the bodies of missing persons, victims from plane and car crashes, house fires, murder victims found after many years.
"The decision to introduce the science to Australia is coming close but I think we will see it here in the near future. Bringing in a third person for egg donation is not as horrific as it sounds," Dr David Molloy from Queensland Fertility Group told The Courier-Mail.
"Ethically, it is actually one step down from conventional egg donation in that the total genetics of the donor is not passed on to the child.
"The child would not have three parents as the egg donor would have no rights to the child. This technology could wipe out mitochondrial diseases which are very serious conditions."
He said people were worried about the ethics because it was a "nucleus transfer and that means it is nudging closer to cloning."
"I do think though it will be introduced tentatively in select clinics and there needs to be long term studies done on the safety of the procedure. It will be handled carefully by select key researchers," Dr Molloy said.
Mitochondrial diseases are a group of disorders caused by dysfunctional mitochondria, which are responsible for creating more than 90 per cent of the energy needed by the body to sustain life and support organ function.
Mitochondrial donation might be able to assist in the prevention of mitochondrial DNA disease in an estimated 60 births per year in Australia.
If allowed, it is estimated mitochondrial donation would be used in about 60 births a year to prevent diseases that typically see children die between the ages of three and 12.
An expert committee has produced a discussion paper to outline the issue, however NHMRC chief executive officer Professor Anne Kelso said it was now up to ordinary Australians to decide how far they are prepared to allow genetic manipulation of embryos.
"This technology offers the possibility of families having healthy children that are still genetically related to both the parents," Prof Kelso said.
After the UK legalised the practice, the Australian Senate last year recommended changing the cloning act and the embryo research act to allow the procedure.
Rather than rule on the highly contentious issue, the Government has asked the NHMRC to undertake expert and community consultations, including public forums in Melbourne and Sydney next week.
Murdoch Children's Research Institute geneticist Professor David Thorburn said concerns remain over the effectiveness and risks of the procedure, however he is in favour of it under the strictest circumstances.
"Mitochondrial disease is actually 300 different diseases, so there's actually quite a bit of variability but many of the children die in the first days or weeks or months of life and at the moment we have no effective treatment," Prof Thornburn said.
Forensic biology expert, Dr Kristy Wright, a visiting fellow at the Genomics Research Centre at Queensland University of Technology says the fertility process could upset genetic analysis.
"This could lead to incorrect conclusions in the area of familial and kinship testing. Creating familial links is a key area of forensics," Dr Wright said.
The Senate Community Affairs References Committee conducted an inquiry into the Science of Mitochondrial Donation and Related Matters.
The inquiry examined the impact of mitochondrial disease on Australian families and the healthcare sector, the safety and efficacy of existing donation techniques, and ethical considerations and handed down its report in June 2018.
The NHMRC was asked to undertake public consultation.
Rebecca says she will never be a mother without controversial IVF
AT JUST 22 years old, Rebecca Patterson says she would not ever have a baby unless the controversial "three parent fertility" treatment was available to her.
The young Queensland woman was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease at the age of 19.
Mitochondrial disease is an inherited, chronic illness that can cause physical, developmental and cognitive disabilities.
While her friends are out enjoying themselves, Bec is in chronic pain and so fatigued she has to sleep up to six hours throughout the day.
"I'm not able to work, this is an hugely debilitating illness and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. It is likely that if I had a child they would have the disease," she said.
"I was one of the lucky ones who got to live a little when I was younger. I studied hairdressing and lived life to the fullest before the symptoms started to appear. I do a lot of work with children who have the disease and I see first hand how difficult it is for them," she said.
There is no cure or treatment but Bec's doctors are working to slow down the progression of her symptoms.
She has low lung capacity and is often breathless and has severe muscle weakness and chronic fatigue and pain.
"I understand that people have concerns about this technology but if they were close to someone who suffered from mitochondrial disease they would understand the amazing difference it would bring to lives of women like me who would one day love to have a healthy child," she said.