THREE PARENT IVF
Scientists working in north east England believe they have hit on a technique that will prevent a rare genetic disorder, reports The Times (p15). The newspaper reports that Doug Turnbull, of the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, believes the research could give hope to carriers of mitochondrial disease, a cell disorder that weakens organs, often the brain and heart, and is frequently fatal.
Turnbull likens the process in which genetic material could be transferred from a father and mother into a donor egg containing the mitochondria of another woman to "changing a battery pack in your computer".
The process, described as "controversial" would mean children could be born with genetic material from three people.
According to the article the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is conducting a review and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics think-tank will report tomorrow on the implications of mitochondrial transfer if it is approved.
Turnbull will make his findings public at The Times Cheltenham Science Festival later this week. He is quoted as saying: "In the nucleus there are 23,000 genes. In the mitochondria there are 13 protein-encoding genes. These are required to produce the mitochondria. They don't change hair or personality."
Saturday's The Times (p9) interviewed professor Lord Winston, one of the pioneers of IVF, who claimed the benefits of human genome sequencing have been much overplayed.
Winston's complaint, that attempts to use genome sequencing to discover breakthrough cancer treatments had stalled, was met with a counter-argument from Peter Donnelly, director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, who said what was needed was more time "to use genetic studies to develop new drug treatments. But it's a long road."
Donnelly's view was supported by Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, who underlined how, in cancer research, "genome sequencing has quickly led to drugs such as vemurafenib (Hoffman-La Roche's Zelboraf) for malignant melanoma, which target the precise genetic mutations that drive tumours."
Ewan Birney, associate director of the European Bioinformatics Institute, told The Times the problem may not lie in the utility of genomics, but in our impatience for results in a field that has been promising a revolution.
STEM CELL RESEARCH
The Sunday Telegraph (p12) reported that scientists have grown human bone cells in a laboratory, opening the way for patients to have broken bones repaired - or even have replacement bones grown outside of their body from their own stem cells.
Professor Avinoam Kadouri, head of the scientific advisory board for Israel's Bonus Biogroup, explained: "We use three-dimensional structures to fabricate the bone in the right shape and geometry. We can grow these bones outside the body and then transplant them to the patient."
The technique, developed in partnership with the Technion Institute of Research in Israel, uses three-dimensional scans to build a gel-like scaffold allowing an implant to fit perfectly and merge with surrounding tissue, said the Telegraph. The first trial in patients is on course to be carried out later this year, the newspaper added.