Press Office


World first led by Newcastle University


Last night the UK became the first country to approve laws to allow the use of a ground-breaking IVF-based technique to reduce the risk of mitochondrial diseases.

Pioneered by scientists at Newcastle University, the procedure has passed its final legislative obstacle after being approved by the House of Lords.

This follows the approval by MPs earlier this month and means the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) can now consider granting licences to use a new IVF-based technique.

Known as ‘mitochondrial donation’ the techniques were developed by scientists at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research at Newcastle University and involve removing faulty mitochondria inherited from the mother and replacing them with the healthy mitochondria of another woman. The nuclear DNA, containing 99.9% of genetic material from the mother and father, remains unchanged.

Prof Doug Turnbull, Professor of Neurology and a consultant at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle University, said: "This is wonderful news for patients and families affected by mitochondrial disease. Mitochondrial donation has undergone essential scientific, ethical and parliamentary scrutiny. I am delighted that the House of Lords supported the regulations with such enthusiasm."

Mitochondrial diseases are caused by inherited mutations in the DNA contained in mitochondria – tiny structures present in every cell that generate energy.

Every year, around one in 6,500 children are born with severe mitochondrial diseases, which can be devastating and particularly affect tissues that have high energy demands – brain, muscle (including heart), liver and kidney and can also lead to death in early infancy.

Prof Mary Herbert, Professor of Reproductive Biology, added: "The vote in the House of Lords is very welcome news for us as researchers and for families affected by mtDNA diseases.  Our task now is to continue our research aimed at maximising the success of future treatments and to gather the scientific evidence required for affected families to make informed decisions.  We look forward to learning more about the HFEA's requirements for granting a licence to offer the new techniques in clinical treatment."

Prof Alison Murdoch, Head of Newcastle Fertility Centre at Life, part of the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, commented: “For 10 years we have publically discussed mitochondrial donation to explain how it could help patients whose families are blighted by the consequences of mitochondrial abnormalities. Whilst acknowledging the views of those who have a fundamental objection to our work, Parliament has determined that we should continue. We hope that opponents will accept its democratic decision.

"The science will be reviewed and, if accepted, we hope to be able to submit a treatment application to the HFEA when regulatory policies have been determined.“

Check our International Research Impact website to find out more about the pioneering IVF technique developed at Newcastle University.  

published on: 25 February 2015