What is mitochrondrial disease and why are MPs debating it today?

Later today, after the PM’s statement and a general debate on hospital car parking charges, there will be a debate on “Mitochondrial replacement techniques and public safety”. Here’s a BBC report which explains very simply what it’s about – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-28986843 – and an educational animated video narrated by none other than Bill Nighy http://www.thelilyfoundation.org.uk/animation/

Basically, it’s about adding DNA from a third person during IVF to combat genetic disease. Some people don’t like the idea of this and have tabled a motion today calling for a delay in introducing new laws. I suspect – seeing the names that have been listed in support of the motion – their concern has more to do with their religious outlook than with scientific caution. We saw a similar debate over the creation of ‘hybrid embryos’ (for the purposes of genetic research, not for implanting) when the last Labour government passed the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

I admit I need to find out more about the science. It’s times like this that I wish my old comrade, Doug Naysmith, genetic scientist and MP for Bristol North West till he stood down in 2010, was still in Parliament; he was always a good person to run such things by. But my instinct is that if we can, through research such as this, save even a few lives, then it’s something we should be doing.

It’s mitochrondrial awareness week soon – it starts on 14th September – and you can find out more about that here: http://www.mitoaction.org/awareness And here’s the text of today’s motion and the names of its sponsors. This is just a general debate, not a debate on legislation, so it doesn’t mean we will/ won’t be doing anything specific as a result.

Fiona Bruce
Robert Flello
Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson
John Pugh
Mark Durkan
Jim Shannon
Ian Paisley
Mrs Caroline Spelman
Martin Vickers
Mr Nigel Dodds
Jim Dobbin
Mr David Burrowes
Jeremy Lefroy
Jacob Rees-Mogg
Mr Laurence Robertson
Glyn Davies
Ms Margaret Ritchie
Mr Ronnie Campbell
Mr David Amess
Bob Blackman

That this House takes note of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s most recent scientific review into the safety and efficacy of mitochondrial replacement techniques which highlights concerns for subsequent generations of children born through maternal spindle transfer and pronuclear transfer; welcomes the recent comments of scientists including Professor Lord Winston that, prior to the introduction of such techniques, more research ought to be undertaken and a full assessment conducted of the potential risk to children born as a result; and calls upon the Government, in light of these public safety concerns, to delay bringing forward regulations on mitochondrial replacement.

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