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UK's first three-parent babies could be born next year

Three-parent IVF techniques have been declared safe enough by British scientists to be offered in "specific circumstances." The treatments can reduce the risk of mothers passing hereditary diseases to their babies.

An independent expert panel in Britain on Wednesday recommended that the three-parent IVF techniques be approved for "cautious" use.

In a statement, the panel reported that "significant progress had been made" to improve the reliability of the procedure. But they warned that patients "should be made aware that there can be no guarantee of safety and efficacy" for the treatment.

British media said the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) were now almost certain to give the go ahead for the treatment. 

Several newspapers speculated that the first babies born to three-parents could be conceived in 2017 following what was the panel's insistence that the treatments were offered only to "carefully selected patients."

The panel said the procedures must be used "only in those patients who for medical reasons are ... unlikely to have any suitable embryos for transfer."

Removing faulty DNA

The controversial techniques involve intervening in the fertilization process to remove mitochondria, which act as tiny energy-generating batteries inside cells.

If faulty, these mitochondria can cause fatal heart problems, liver failure, brain disorders, blindness and muscular dystrophy.

The treatment is known as "three-parent" IVF because the babies, born from genetically modified embryos, would have DNA from a mother, a father and from a female donor.

The recommendation follows the birth of the first mitochondrial donation baby last month when US doctors working at a clinic in Mexico helped a Jordanian couple conceive using the new three-way treatment.

Law already changed

Although the technique has been trialed in several countries, the UK was the first country to change the law to allow mitochondrial donation to take place legally.

Three-parent IVF has been criticized for allowing scientists to "play God," with some opponents concerned that children may suffer negative physical and psychological effects.

HFEA will now decide whether to issue the first license to a clinic following the panel's fourth report into the technique.

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