By Amy Platt
The now six-month old baby was conceived using a controversial technique meant to help people who carry genes for fatal rare diseases. The procedure received widespread media attention when lawmakers in the U.K. became the first to approve its use last year. This procedure has not been approved within the U.S.
First reported in the New Scientist, the healthy baby boy was born April 6th of this year. His parents were treated by U.S. fertility specialists in Mexico, where there are no laws prohibiting such methods. His mother carries a genetic mutation for Leigh Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that usually becomes apparent in the first year of life and is generally fatal.
His mother had previously suffered four miscarriages along with two children die of the rare Leigh Syndrome. One child was eight months old and the other six years. Leigh Disease can be especially hard on parents and children. Symptoms usually progress rapidly and lead to generalized weakness, a lack of muscle tone and a buildup of lactic acid in the body, which can cause respiratory and kidney problems. Children rarely live more than six or seven years.
The mother herself is healthy, but the gene for the disease lives in her DNA, in the mitochondria that powers cells. In her case, about 25 percent of her mitochondria reportedly carry the disease-causing mutation. The couple sought help from Dr. John Zhang, a reproductive endocrinologist at New Hope Fertility Center in New York City. Dr. Zhang opted to try the three-parent IVF technique to ensure that the disease mutation would not be passed along to the baby.
“This is the very first time at least in human reproduction that the offspring are produced with three parties – one sperm and different parts of two eggs…. So this is very revolutionary,” Zhang told CBS News.
Spindle nuclear transfer, involves removing the healthy nucleus from one of the mother’s eggs and transferring it to a donor egg which had had its nucleus removed. The resulting egg – with nuclear DNA from the mother and mitochondrial DNA from a donor – was then fertilized with the father’s sperm. The resulting embryo contained genetic material from three parents – the mother, the egg donor, and the father.
The scientists created five embryos using the technique, according to New Scientist. Only one developed normally and that embryo was implanted in the mother.
The baby has not shown any signs of developing the illness, Zhang said. His mitochondria have been tested and less than one percent carries the mutation, believed to be too low a level to lead to disease.
While this particular procedure has been a success so far safety concerns still remain. According to the article, “Last time embryologists tried to create a baby using DNA from three people was in the 1990s, when they injected mitochondrial DNA from a donor into another woman’s egg, along with sperm from her partner. Some of the babies went on to develop genetic disorders, and the technique was banned. The problem may have arisen from the babies having mitochondria from two sources.”
And even in Britain, where the procedure allowing DNA from three parents was approved in February 2015, leaders disagreed heatedly on the issue while it was up for debate in the House of Commons, with some raising concerns about “designer babies” and “playing God.” Leading churches in Britain – both Protestant and Catholic – opposed the procedure on religious and ethical grounds.
KFM knows this is a controversial topic. It probably always will be. What are your thoughts? We’d love to know.