RESEARCHERS in the North East have been given a £5.8m boost to fund a new centre to continue their pioneering work that could offer hope of cures to a host of inherited diseases.
Experts at Newcastle University have developed a groundbreaking fertility technique – controversially dubbed three-parent IVF – which allows the successful transfer of DNA between two human eggs.
It is the first time such a system has been used and the landmark project has the potential to help prevent the transmission of serious inherited disorders known as mitochondrial diseases, which affects around one in 5,000 people the UK.
Now scientists in the region have been given millions of pounds for a new research centre at Newcastle University in order to further their work.
However, the techniques being studied at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research are highly controversial, involving the transfer of human DNA, and will need a change of the law to become routine treatments.
The announcement comes as the Department of Health and the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills has asked the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to carry out a consultation to seek the public’s opinion about the use of techniques to avoid such diseases.
The HFEA will report the outcomes of this public dialogue work to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, who will then decide whether to draft regulations for consideration by Parliament to allow the techniques to proceed in patients.
The techniques have already been shown to work in the laboratory, but further experiments are needed to assess their safety before they can be used in clinics for patients.
Leading the research is Prof Doug Turnbull, who will be the director of the new centre, and Prof Mary Herbert, an embryologist from Newcastle University.
Newcastle neurologist Prof Turnbull said: “It is a huge boost for the North East in terms of the research and it is great for the university as it cements our position as a world leader in this field.
“It is extremely important that we continue with this research as we want to make a major difference to patients whose lives are seriously affected by mitochondrial diseases.
“The funding we have been given will allow us to take forward experiments which we hope will demonstrate to the HFEA and to the public that these techniques, which are based on existing IVF techniques, are safe and effective.
“This has the possibility, certainly, of stopping these diseases completely – potentially within the next generation.”