New Centre for Mitochondrial Research at Newcastle University
27 January 2012
The Wellcome Trust has awarded £4.4 million to Newcastle University
to establish a world-leading centre dedicated to understanding the
biology of mitochondria and their relation to health and disease.
Newcastle University has contributed a further £1.4 million for the
The Centre will conduct research that could pave the way for in
vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment to prevent the hereditary
transmission of devastating mitochondrial diseases. The
techniques involve transferring nuclear DNA, which contains our
genetic make-up, between two human eggs to replace defective
mitochondria — they generate the power for the cells in our bodies.
When mitochondria fail, patients can develop devastating
mitochondrial diseases with symptoms often affecting those tissues
most heavily dependent on energy, such as the heart, muscles and
The techniques have been developed in human eggs by Professor
Doug Turnbull and Professor Mary Herbert at Newcastle University.
Professor Turnbull will be the Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre
for Mitochondrial Research, where the follow-up work will take
Professor Turnbull says: "Every year, we see hundreds of patients
whose lives are seriously affected by mitochondrial diseases. We
want to make a major difference to the lives of these patients. This
new funding will enable us to take forward essential experiments,
which we hope will demonstrate to the HFEA and to the public that
these techniques, which are based on existing IVF techniques, are
safe and effective."
The Centre will bring together ground-breaking laboratory studies
to understand the fundamental mechanisms and genetics of
mitochondrial dysfunction, and the expertise of clinical researchers
who currently care for over 400 patients with mitochondrial diseases
at NHS Specialised services clinics in Newcastle and more than 1000
patients at the Newcastle Fertility Centre at Life (Newcastle upon
Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust).
Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, says:
"Professor Turnbull and his colleagues at Newcastle are world
leaders in discovering how inherited abnormalities in mitochondria,
the 'batteries' of our cells, can cause devastating diseases that
typically affect the brain and muscles. We hope that their work at
this new Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research will
result in major advances in our understanding of mitochondrial
function and in the development of new treatments.
"Their work to stop the inheritance of defective mitochondria by
transfer of DNA between human eggs is particularly promising and has
the potential to prevent previously incurable diseases. We welcome
the opportunity to discuss with the public why we believe this
technique is essential if we are to give families affected by these
diseases the chance to have healthy children, something most of us
take for granted."
To ensure continued research in this area, the Centre will
nurture the next generation of scientists by developing a new
training programme in mitochondrial medicine for outstanding young
Professor Turnbull and colleagues recognise that their work to
prevent mitochondrial disease passing from mother to child involves
new and potentially controversial IVF techniques. Therefore, the
Centre will also focus on engagement with patients, the general
public and policymakers to explain their work.
Professor Turnbull adds: "With this new funding from the Wellcome
Trust and Newcastle University, we aim to develop a Centre which
integrates internationally renowned basic and clinical researchers
and trains the next generation of outstanding scientists. We
recognise the importance of public support for our work and so will
ensure that we open our research for our patients, the public and
policymakers to follow and see what we are trying to achieve."
In the Welcome Trust video below, Professor Turnbull and
Professor Murdoch discuss the technique used to transfer genetic
material between two fertilised eggs.