Mitochondrial donation is an IVF-based assisted reproductive technology. It has the potential to prevent mitochondrial 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.
About mitochondrial donation
Mitochondrial donation is an assisted reproductive technology which can help some women to avoid transmitting mitochondrial disease to their biological children.
The term collectively refers to a number of specific techniques aimed at ensuring only healthy mitochondria are passed on to an embryo.
Used in conjunction with in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), mitochondrial donation techniques allow an embryo to be created which contains the:
- nuclear DNA from a man and a woman (the prospective mother)
- mitochondria in an egg donated by another woman (the mitochondrial donor).
This approach minimises the risk of a prospective mother transmitting mitochondrial disease to her child, where the mother carries mitochondria that mean her child is likely to inherit severe mitochondrial disease.
It cannot, however, be used to cure people with existing mitochondrial disease or to prevent mitochondrial disease caused by mutations in an individual's nuclear DNA.
The mitochondrial donation process
Why it is important
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
- 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. Approximately one child per week is born with a severe form of the disease.
Introducing mitochondrial donation could prevent some children from suffering from this life-threatening disease and reduce the burden of mitochondrial disease into the future.
What we’re doing about mitochondrial donation
Mitochondrial donation is not currently allowed in Australia. The Australian Government is proposing to introduce mitochondrial donation in a staged and closely monitored way.
The aim is to allow families to access the technique safely, at a carefully selected and regulated clinic. Ongoing research will also be allowed to increase Australian-based knowledge and expertise.
Once the clinic has demonstrated success over a number of years, and the results have been evaluated by experts, there will be an option to allow clinics across Australia to be licensed to offer mitochondrial donation.
Introduction of Maeve's Law
The Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform (Maeve’s Law) Bill was introduced into the Australian Parliament for debate on 24 March 2021.
If passed, it will allow mitochondrial donation to be introduced in Australia, through a staged approach and under strict regulatory conditions, to prevent transmission of severe mitochondrial disease.
On 24 June 2021, the Senate referred Maeve’s Law to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report. They are due to report on 18 August 2021.
Further information is available on the Committee’s website.
A public consultation process on the proposed approach to introducing mitochondrial donation in Australia, ran from 5 February 2021 until 15 March 2021.
Read the summary report.
Extensive consultation has previously been done on the ethical, scientific and legal issues associated with mitochondrial donation. Read about the consultation and work undertaken by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in 2019–20.