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Harnessing new technology to save lives

The Government is committed to preventing future children in Australia suffering from severe mitochondrial disease, a devastating genetic disorder and is calling on the public to share their views through the release of a consultation paper outlining our proposed approach. By harnessing new technologies such as mitochondrial donation, the government has the potential to change the lives of parents and their children and reduce the burden of mitochondrial disease for future generations.

Severe mitochondrial disease can have a devastating effect on families, including the premature death of children, painful debilitating and disabling suffering, long-term ill health and poor quality of life. In Australia, approximately one child each week is born with a severe form of the disease, often with a life expectancy of fewer than five years.

Mitochondrial donation provides an option for some women who carry a mitochondrial genetic defect to have a biological child free from this devastating disease. The Government recognises that the introduction of this technology in Australia is complex and it will require an appropriate regulatory framework, medical safeguards and, in the longer term, the support of state and territory governments.

For these reasons, they have sought expert advice to ensure that Australia’s approach to implementing mitochondrial donation is undertaken safely and cautiously. The government is proposing to introduce this technology through a two-stage process, which would see mitochondrial donation legalised for use in research settings and through an initial pilot clinic, before permitting it in clinical practice more broadly after success has been demonstrated over a number of years.

The Australian is committed to continuing to advance the nation’s position as a world leader in medical research and delivery, which will ultimately benefit all Australians.

What is mitochondrial donation?

Mitochondrial donation is an IVF-based assisted reproductive technology. It has the potential to prevent mitochondrial DNA disease in babies born to mothers who may otherwise pass on the disease. Learn more about what mitochondrial donation is, why it’s important, and how we propose to introduce it.

Mitochondrial donation is a new assisted reproductive technology which can help some parents to avoid transmitting mitochondrial DNA disease to their biological children. The term collectively refers to a number of specific techniques aimed at ensuring only healthy mitochondrial DNA is passed on to an embryo.

Used in conjunction with in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), mitochondrial donation techniques allow for an embryo to be produced using a material containing nuclear DNA from a man and woman and the mitochondria in an egg donated by another woman. This approach minimises the risk of transmission of the abnormal mitochondria from the mother to her child. It cannot, however, be used to cure existing mitochondrial disease or to prevent mitochondrial disease caused by mutations in the nuclear DNA.

Severe mitochondrial disease can have a devastating effect on families, including the premature death of children, painful debilitating and disabling suffering, long-term ill-health and poor quality of life. In Australia, between one in 5,000 and one in 10,000 people are likely to develop severe mitochondrial disease during their lifetime, with approximately one child per week born with a severe form of the disease.

Women who carry a mitochondrial genetic defect risk passing on severe mitochondrial disease when they have a biological child. Introducing mitochondrial donation could prevent some children from suffering from this life-threatening disease and reduce the burden of mitochondrial disease into the future.

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