World First For Mitochondrial Research

World First for Mitochondrial Research

Newcastle University is leading the development of a pioneering IVF (in vitro fertilisation) technique to protect future generations from the risk of mitochondrial disease. The team is integrating this international quality research with training for new scientists and engaging with policy makers, patients and the public.

Mitochondria are often described as the batteries of our cells. In some people there is a fault in these batteries which can cause mitochondrial diseases.

Nicola parker and Doug Turnbull, Newcastle University
Nicola Parker and Doug Turnbull, Professor of Neurology and a consultant at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle University

Mitochondrial diseases are passed from mother to child down the maternal line. Each year around one in 6,500 children are born with severe mitochondrial diseases including:

  • muscular weakness
  • blindness
  • heart and liver failure
  • learning disabilities
  • diabetes - which can lead to death in early infancy
Video: Protecting against mitochondrial disease

Pioneering IVF technique developed

The new technique developed by scientists at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research at Newcastle University is known as ‘mitochondrial donation’.

It involves 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. This would result in a healthy child, and eliminate mitochondrial diseases from the family line.

With funding from the Wellcome Trust, the University is refining the technique to ensure families affected by mitochondrial diseases are able to access these technologies in the clinic at the earliest opportunity.

Nicola Parker, mitochondrial disease sufferer said "No parent would ever want to pass on an illness to their child, so this work should be applauded. It means my daughter could now have the chance of being a mother herself one day, without the risk of this genetic condition being passed on again."

World first led by Newcastle University

On 24 February 2015 the UK became the first country to approve laws to allow the use of the technique in patients. The procedure passed its final legislative obstacle after being approved by the House of Lords.

The landmark decision followed the approval by MPs earlier in the month and means the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) can now consider granting licences to use the new technique. Fertility clinics will have to apply for a license to use the technique, and each application will be judged on its own merits.


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Video: The Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research

Contact Information

Professor Doug Turnbull
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 8334

Professor Mary Herbert
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 213 8213




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