Sunderland family backs life-saving DNA-swap scheme

Edward Bernardi celebrating his 18th birthday with his parents Sharon and Neil.
Edward Bernardi celebrating his 18th birthday with his parents Sharon and Neil.
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A CONTROVERSIAL “three parent IVF” treatment could save thousands of lives and prevent heartache like that suffered by a Sunderland mum who lost six children.

Sharon Bernardi hopes research, being pioneered in the North East, will mean no other mother suffers the same pain she has gone through.

Public consultation will today be published to persuade the Government to change the law, allowing Newcastle University scientists to put research into practice.

Their work aims to prevent diseases caused by defective mitochondria – the batteries that power the cells in our bodies.

When these fail, patients can develop devastating diseases, such as those which claimed the lives of Sharon Bernardi’s six children when they were just days old.

Sharon, of Springwell, Sunderland, said: “We are all praying for a cure, no one more than me.

“If this research stops other women going through the agony I have, then it’s worth it.”

Scientists believe they have now found a way to prevent those mitochondrial diseases, passed on from mother to child.

The technique involves replacing the defective mitochondria in a human egg, with healthy mitochondria.

Opponents of the method claim such techniques throw up serious ethical questions, arguing the research effectively creates three parent families; the natural mother and father - and the donor.

However, Sharon disagrees. The 47-year-old, whose son Edward lived with the condition to the age of 21, said: “The people who argue against this have never suffered the loss that I have.

“The fact is your only transferring a very small percentage of the donor DNA into the natural mother.

“People had the same reaction when IVF was first introduced.”

The Government asked the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to carry out a public consultation to seek opinion about using this type of method. The results of this are published today.

Professor Doug Turnbull, of Newcastle University, hopes these results will persuade the HFEA to recommend a change in legislation, allowing his work to be put into practice.

Prof Turnbull added: “Ultimately, we are trying to give mothers more reproductive choice.

“For people like Sharon, this type of technique could have made a huge difference. Despite the criticism, I believe it is something which is perfectly valid and could change lives.