Press Office


New centre will lead mitochondrial research


A brand new centre, which will drive research into a rare but devastating medical condition, has opened at Newcastle University

The Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research was officially launched today by Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust. It will be a world-leading centre dedicated to understanding the biology of mitochondria and their relation to health and disease.

Thanks to an investment of £4.4m from the Wellcome Trust and an additional £1.4m from Newcastle University, the new centre aims to make a major difference to the lives of patients with mitochondrial disease.

Mitochondria are the ‘powerhouses’ of the human body and essential for human life. Mitochondrial diseases occur when these ‘powerhouses’ fail, many organs are affected similar to the effect of a power cut has on our homes. The tissues affected are usually those which are most dependent on energy such as the heart, muscles and brain. Symptoms vary but children can be left severely disabled and with a significantly reduced life expectancy. The work in the new Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research is to understand the nature of these diseases and to develop new treatments.

One of the major areas of work is to try and prevent certain forms of mitochondrial disease being passed down from mother to child. The techniques involve transferring nuclear DNA, which contains our genetic make-up, between two human eggs in order to replace defective mitochondria. 

The techniques have been developed in human eggs by Professor Doug Turnbull and Professor Mary Herbert at Newcastle University. Professor Turnbull will be Director of the centre, where the follow-up work will take place.

Professor Turnbull said:  “We want to make a difference to the lives of our patients and this new funding will enable us to lead the way in developing this new treatment.

“Mitochondrial diseases can seriously affect the quality of life of both patients and their families. It often affects several generations and if we can stop that happening it will be a tremendous help for many hundreds of people who suffer with these diseases.

“We will now be able to take forward essential experiments which we hope will demonstrate to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and to the public that these new IVF based techniques are safe and effective.”

Sir Mark Walport said: “I’m delighted to be able to open this important new research centre at Newcastle today. Providing funding was not a difficult decision for us: Professor Turnbull and colleagues are world leaders in their field and are developing techniques that could potentially change the lives of families affected by mitochondrial diseases. This is extremely important work and an exemplar of bringing together basic and clinical science to create patient benefit.”

Several patients with mitochondrial disease will be at the opening of the Centre.

One of the patients, Mrs June Wood, pictured, said: “This new Wellcome Trust Centre gives all patients with mitochondrial disease fresh hope. This is a disease which can affect generation after generation of the same family, if it can be prevented it would be amazing.”

published on: 11 September 2012