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From research to treatment

From research to treatment

Our researchers have pioneered a new form of IVF that could eliminate a set of hereditary diseases.

Mitochondrial diseases are caused by mutations in the DNA found inside your mitochondria – tiny structures that generate energy inside your cells. These mutations can be passed on from parent to child. There is no cure. Affected children often die in early infancy. After years of research, scientists at Newcastle University have developed a revolutionary IVF technique known as pronuclear transfer or ‘three-person IVF’. This will finally help reduce the chance of the diseases being passed on to the next generation.

What are mitochondrial diseases? Every cell in your body (except red blood cells) contains thousands of mitochondria. They generate energy for your cells, so your body can function as it should. Mitochondrial diseases are caused by dysfunctional mitochondria, which means some cells don't get the energy they need to function properly. Parts of the body most commonly affected are the brain, muscles, liver, heart and kidneys but everyone with mitochondrial diseases has slightly different symptoms.
3,500 women in the UK are at risk of passing on serious mitochondrial diseases.
1 in 4,300 children born every year are affected by mitochondrial DNA diseases. How have Newcastle University and Newcastle Hospitals helped?
Researchers at Newcastle University have developed mitochondrial donation, also known as pronuclear transfer or 'three-person IVF'. Healthy mitochondria from a donor are combined with genetic material from the patient to create a new egg or embryo. This means that the healthy donor mitochondria should be passed on to the baby, rather than the patient's dysfunctional mitochondria.
25 women affected by mitochondrial diseases can receive the treatment each year.
The work was pioneered by Professor Mary Herbert's team as part of the Wellcome Centre, where Professor Sir Doug Turnbull leads the University's mitochondrial work and has studied mitochondrial diseases for 30 years.
3 Newcastle organisations involved in the research. The University's Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research collaborated with the Newcastle Fertility Centre and the NHS Highly Specialised Service for Mitochondrial Diseases based at Newcastle Hospitals.
The UK became the first country to approve laws to allow the use of this pioneering IVF technique, in February 2015. Australia and Singapore are now considering following suit.
In March 2017 The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority grants the world's first treatment licence to the Newcastle Fertility Centre.