This groundbreaking procedure, where babies are born using three people's DNA, prevents children from inheriting incurable diseases.
Mitochondrial donation treatment (MDT) is a technique that uses tissue from a healthy egg donor— AKA free of harmful diseases that a mother may pass on to their child — during in vitro fertilization (IVF).
In this scenario, the baby was born with the mother and father's DNA — 99.8% — and .1% from a third female donor. The .1% makes up 37 genes from the donor, which is a small amount compared to the 20,000 genes that human genes carry. But that small amount can prevent future diseases.
When mitochondria, who have genes of their own that malfunction, they are unable to fuel our body's organs which can impact the brain, heart, muscles, and liver.
Doctors in the U.K. at the Newcastle Fertility Centre are responsible for pioneering this procedure, nicknamed "three-parent babies," and are still the only clinic in the U.K. that can perform this procedure. In 2015, the U.K. granted a law to permit the procedure, and in 2018, the first case was approved. As of today, less than five babies have been born from the MDT program.
The Newcastle Fertility Centre's goal is to help women who have genetic disorders and prevent them from passing the genes on to their children. Some women who have genetic mutations may have a healthy baby, but others — one in 6,000 — may have far worse and fatal diseases.
How does the procedure work?
Sperm used by the father fertilizes the egg from the mother and the donor. The genetic material from the donor's egg replaces the fertilized egg from the couple. The result is a fully fertilized egg with sets of chromosomes from both parents and healthy mitochondria from the donor. From here, doctors implant the egg in the mother's womb.
However, not all procedures are safe. Research from early 2023 found that abnormal mitochondria from the mother's egg can multiply once the baby is in the womb. Scientists still don't understand why or how this happens.
Other methods of avoiding genetic diseases in children are adoption or IVF with a donor egg.
This is not MDT's first rodeo, however. In 2016, a child was born in Mexico through MDT through doctors from the United States although the procedure is not legal in the states yet. In 2018, Valery Zukin, the director of the Nadiya Clinic in Kiev, Ukraine used the experimental technique for four babies.
Not everyone agrees that MDT is a good idea, either. While safety is a concern for some, other critics worry this will slip into a grey area of genetic designer babies who are taller, stronger, and smarter. Nevertheless, it offers hope for those who have trouble conceiving or who worry about their children dying or inheriting a fatal genetic disease.
Since breaking the news on May 10, there have been no updates on how the babies in the U.K. are doing after birth.
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