Reproductive technology used alongside in vitro fertilization (embryo selection shown) could help mothers to avoid passing on mitochondrial disease.Credit: Zephyr/Science Photo Library

A group of Australian politicians has released a road map for the country to move towards legalizing mitochondrial donation. The group’s recommendations, published on 27 June, include that the government consult the public and scientific experts about permitting clinical use of the reproductive technology, which could help women avoid passing genetic defects to their children through mutations in their mitochondria, the structures in cells that generate energy.

The technique uses a healthy donor egg to create an embryo with the nuclear DNA of two people and the mitochondrial DNA of a third. The embryo can then be implanted using in vitro fertilization (IVF). The United Kingdom is currently the only country to allow mitochondrial donation, although no babies have been born using it. Singapore is also considering legalizing the technique.

The Australian committee, composed of members of parliament from the governing party, the opposition and smaller parties, conducted a three-month inquiry before releasing recommendations to the government. These include that the government prepare options for changes to laws that would permit the use of the reproductive technology, and that it help Australians with mitochondrial disease to be treated in the United Kingdom in the meantime. Scientists and patient groups have welcomed the recommendations. The government has yet to respond.

Mitochondrial disease is a group of conditions that affects as many as one in 500 children and about 12 in every 100,000 adults. Symptoms range from mild to severely debilitating and life-threatening, affecting many systems in the body, including the gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, endocrine, heart and the central nervous system.