I have recently found that all technological or medical advancements I read about really made their mark on the world years ago but I learn about them today because they are taking greater steps towards success. They are becoming more newsworthy.
If I were good at science and if I didn’t have a fear of all things medical, I would be on a very different path right now. To say that the following is fascinating would be an understatement.
About five months ago, a baby boy containing DNA from three different people was born. He is the first baby born using a new technique, called spindle nuclear transfer, but he is not the first baby born to 3 biological parents.
In the late 1990s, a clinical embryologist Dr. Jacques Cohen founded an infertility treatment, called cytoplasmic transfer. The procedure involved transferring a little bit of a donor woman’s cytoplasm, containing mitochondria, to the mother’s egg. The egg would then be fertilized by the father’s sperm. The embryo would now contain DNA from all three people: from the donor woman’s mitochondria, the mother’s egg, and the father’s sperm.
Soon, other clinics adopted Cohen’s technique and the procedure had allowed for 30-50 births worldwide. However, in 2002 the FDA shut it down due to safety and ethical reasons, BBC reported.
The new procedure, which gave life to a little boy, has only been approved in the UK and was created in order for parents with rare genetic mutations to have healthy children. The newborn’s mother carries genes for Leigh syndrome, “a fatal disorder that affects the developing nervous system.” The genes for this disease live in the mitochondrial DNA. Though the mother has always been healthy, she lost her first two children to this disease.
Her and her husband found Dr. John Zhang and his team, at the New Hope Fertility Center in NYC, who decided to do the spindle nuclear transfer. They performed the procedure in Mexico, where they didn’t have to worry about rules. The process required Dr. Zhang to remove the nucleus from the mother’s egg and put it inside the donor egg, after removing its own. The new egg had the mother’s nuclear DNA and the donor’s mitochondrial DNA. The last step was to fertilize it with the father’s sperm. The team of doctors did this five times to create five embryos. They implanted the only one, which developed normally, in the mother.
Nine months later, the couple can finally say they have started a family.
There has been a lot of controversy over the procedure, regarding its safety. The Center for Genetics and Society said:
“We urge intended parents who might consider undergoing this biologically extreme procedure to carefully investigate the risks, as well as the areas where evidence of safety is lacking… And we urge scientists and policy makers to condemn rogue experimentation that takes advantage of families’ misplaced trust in people who wear white coats.”
But Dr. Zhang was ready to do anything to save a life and some say he took the ethical approach. Mitochondrial DNA is only passed on from a mother, so Dr. Zhang used a male embryo. Therefore, in the future the child wouldn’t pass on any mitochondrial DNA. As of now, the baby is doing well. It will take multiple births to find out just how safe the technique is.
Who knows, ten years from now the U.S. could approve the technique if it proves to consistently work in the UK or if they develop an even safer approach.