THE controversial ‘three-parent’ IVF treatment developed by North-East scientists to prevent serious inherited conditions has moved a step closer to becoming reality.

The UK’s fertility treatment regulator said the pioneering technique developed by scientists at Newcastle University was “not unsafe” but suggested further checks before it is allowed to be used on patients.

In February this year the Government launched a consultation on draft regulations for the use of techniques developed at Newcastle University to prevent mothers passing on serious mitochrondrial diseases.

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The techniques involve adapting IVF procedures to eliminate crippling mitochondrial disease.

As part of the consultation the Department of Health requested the the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to reconvene its expert panel to examine the safety and effectiveness of these techniques.

The result of the review – the third of its kind – was that the panel accepted that the techniques are potentially useful for the treatment of “severe or lethal genetic disease” and that the techniques are not unsafe.

However the expert panel felt that there are still some experiments that need to be completed before clinical treatment is offered to patients.

Sally Cheshire, chair of the HFEA said it was now up to the Government to decide the next step and said “it is a long way to go yet.”

One of the expert panel, Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, from the Medical Research Council told the BBC: “I think that (two years) is not a bad estimation. The other sort of experiments we thought were necessary, again it will take about two years to complete all of those.”

Mitochondria are rod-shaped power plants in cells that supply energy. They contain their own DNA, which is only passed onto offspring by mothers.

Defects in mitochondrial DNA give rise to a range of potentially life-threatening diseases.

In mitochondrial transplant the nucleus is removed from the donor egg and replaced with a fertilised nucleus. This new fertilised egg contains the DNA of the father and mother and the mitochondria from the donor, with the aim of producing a disease-free baby.

Professor Doug Turnbull, who invented the new technique with his colleague, Professor Mary Herbert, said it was “encouraging” that the independent expert panel had declared the process to be safe.

He said it was “absolutely right” that there was such careful regulation of new techniques before they were applied in clinical practice.