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United Kingdom first to allow three people to birth a child

Researchers still need to conduct further safety studies in the coming months.

By
Brooks Hays
This microscopic photo shows the injection of a somatic cell, right, into a nuclear-removed human egg cell during an experiment at Seoul National University. South Korean scientists have cloned the first mature embryonic stem cell line, a step towards using the cells to replace or repair damaged cells in humans. To go with story bc-us-cloning (UPI Photo/Woo Suk Hwang/Seoul National University)
This microscopic photo shows the injection of a somatic cell, right, into a nuclear-removed human egg cell during an experiment at Seoul National University. South Korean scientists have cloned the first mature embryonic stem cell line, a step towards using the cells to replace or repair damaged cells in humans. To go with story bc-us-cloning (UPI Photo/Woo Suk Hwang/Seoul National University) | License Photo

LONDON, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- A controversial new type of in vitro fertilization, combining the genetic materials of two women and one man, is now legal in the United Kingdom after Parliament approved a law okaying the practice this week.

After winning support from most of the members of British Parliament's House of Commons earlier this month, the law approving "three-person babies" was passed by the House of Lords this week.

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The law allows doctors to use healthy mitochondria of a donor woman to fill in genetic gaps in the DNA of two parents -- parents who, because of mitochondrial defects, are at risk of passing deficiencies like muscular dystrophy on to their offspring.

"Today's vote in the House of Lords is a triumph that gives hope to families who otherwise would have to face the prospect of not being able to conceive a child free from a life-limiting disease," Alastair Kent, director of a charity called Genetic Alliance UK, a group that offers support for people with inherited conditions, told the Belfast Telegraph.

Some object to the new technique and the related medical research on religious grounds, arguing the law will enable and encourage the unnecessary destruction of human embryos.

Supporters say the costs (ethical or otherwise) are minimal, while the benefits to couples struggling to start a family are great.

"For 10 years we have publicly discussed mitochondrial donation to explain how it could help patients whose families are blighted by the consequences of mitochondrial abnormalities," Alison Murdoch, a researcher at Newcastle University who is one of the chief architects of the cutting-edge technique, told the BBC.

"Whilst acknowledging the views of those who have a fundamental objection to our work, Parliament has determined that we should continue," Murdoch added. "We hope that opponents will accept its democratic decision."

While the law allows the technique's development (and eventual implementation) to move forward, there is still more scientific work to be done, as well as regulatory boxes to check.

Researchers still need to conduct further safety studies in the coming months, while the United Kingdom's fertility regulator will finalize licensing rules for doctors looking to perform the new technique. Clinics will be able to begin applying for licenses in November, and procedures could be performed before the end of 2015.

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