Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Should Australia Allow Mitochondrial Donation?

Credit: nobeastsofierce

Credit: nobeastsofierce

By Ainsley Newson & Stephen Wilkinson

Is there any ethical reason why legislation should prevent the use of donor mitochondria in cases where children are likely to inherit mitochondrial disease from their mothers?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The transfer of a donor’s healthy mitochondria into a woman’s egg or early embryo aims to prevent a child from inheriting mitochondrial disease from its mother. In February 2015 the United Kingdom became the first country to allow the technique, and last month the US Institute of Medicine also determined that mitochondrial donation is acceptable in some circumstances.

Current laws and regulations in Australia are unlikely to allow this treatment to be used clinically so that children can be born with donor mitochondria. However, in all states and territories (except Western Australia), undertaking embryo research into at least some methods of mitochondrial donation may be possible under an appropriate licence.

So far, no such licences have been granted. There are also no plans to review these laws, with the most recent review in 2011 rejecting any change to allow mitochondrial donation.

Should Australia now follow these overseas developments?

Mitochondrial Disease

Mitochondria are organelles within our cells that are responsible for energy generation. It’s thought that they originated in bacteria but now exist in our cells in a symbiotic relationship.

Mitochondrial disease occurs when these mitochondria don’t work properly. These diseases take many forms but often they affect energy-intensive body parts such as the brain,...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.