Babies could be born with a third biological parent under planned research by British scientists to prevent mothers passing degenerative genetic diseases to their children.
Newcastle University experts want to implant part of an embryo taken from an affected mother in an egg from another woman to ensure the child is free from such conditions.
Researchers have applied to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority for permission to experiment on human embryos discarded during IVF treatment, following successful studies on mice.
The process could prevent affected mothers from passing on one of some 50 degenerative diseases, such as blindness, deafness and dementia. Some 1,000 children in Britain are thought to suffer from such diseases transmitted in this way.
But the controversial application triggered a chorus of opposition from churches, pro-life groups and psychologists, concerned that it is another step towards “designer babies” and that it could cause problems for children technically born with three parents.
The Newcastle scientists plan to take the nucleus of an embryo from an affected mother and place it in a donated egg that has had its nucleus removed. They believe this would prevent the growing foetus from being infected with disease through defects in the DNA of mitochrondria, the “powerhouse” of cells that convert food into energy.
Mitochondrial genes are inherited through the mother, who may pass on the disease.
Dr Mary Herbert, of the Newcastle Fertility Centre, who is working with Professor Doug Turnbull, a neurologist, said the resultant foetus from the process should be free of the destructive genetic diseases.