A clinic in Ireland said that it will have the capacity to offer a controversial new procedure that uses genetic material from three people.
Known as mitochondrial transfer, the procedure uses a small amount of DNA from a female donor to prevent genetic disorders such as muscular dystrophy and heart conditions, giving a baby DNA from a father, mother and a female egg donor, reports the Irish Times.
Around one in 6,500 people are born with mitochondrial disorders, which are incurable.
Until now, there has been no way to prevent mitochondrial diseases from being inherited and scientists are calling the procedure a breakthrough.
However, critics are calling the procedure "unethical," saying the development could set doctors on a "slippery slope" towards designer babies.
The new procedure was pioneered in the UK by researchers at Newcastle University. The British government is going ahead to make the procedure available with draft regulations due to be published later this year.
The procedure could be offered within as little as two years.
While there are no laws in Ireland to govern assisted human reproduction, IVF clinics would need to be authorized by the Irish Medicines Board to comply with EU-wide rules over the use and storage of human tissue.
Children born from procedures would possess nuclear DNA inherited from their parents plus a relatively small amount of mitochondrial DNA from the female egg donor - 37 genes.
The majority of a human's DNA – the 23,000 genes that shape appearance – is held separately inside the cell nucleus.
Dr Simon Fishel of the Beacon Care Fertility clinic in Dublin said it had the capacity to deliver the new technique in Ireland. But he added that would provide the service only if the Irish Medicines Board authorized it and if there was public support for the procedure.
Dr Fishel denied that children’s DNA would be dramatically altered as a result.
“One analogy is that it’s like fixing a car. You recognise the car, it’s got the same brand, heritage and appearance. All you’ve changed is a fuel cell in the engine,” he said.
Dr David Walsh of the Sims Clinic in Dublin said there was likely to be very limited demand for the procedure in Ireland given the relatively small population. “This is quite specialised and rare. It’s something that is probably best done in a jurisdiction where there’s a much larger population,” he said.
Some groups are opposing the new development saying that the procedure crosses a line by making genetic modifications to an embryo that it will pass down to all future generations.
Dr David King, the director of the London-based Human Genetics Alert, said the procedure was unsafe and that it led to a “slippery slope” towards other forms of genetic modification.