The world’s first baby has been born using a new “three person” fertility technique. The five-month-old boy has the usual DNA from his mum and dad, plus a tiny bit of genetic code from a donor.
US doctors took the unprecedented step to ensure the baby boy would be free of a genetic condition that his mother carries in her genes, traveling to Mexico to carry out the procedure because there are no laws there that prohibit it.
Some women carry genetic defects in their mitochondria — tiny structures inside nearly every cell of the body that convert food into usable energy — and they can pass these on to their children. The mother had disorder called Leigh Syndrome that has proved fatal — four miscarriages as well as the death of two children prior to six years of age.
Using a method that takes all the vital DNA from the mother’s egg plus healthy mitochondria from a donor egg to create a healthy new egg that can be fertilized with the father’s sperm, a baby has 0.1% of their DNA from the donor (mitochondrial DNA) and all the genetic code for things like hair and eye color from the mother and father.
Dr. John Zhang, medical director at the New Hope Fertility Center in New York City, and his colleagues used the method to make five embryos – only one of them developed normally.
But the science does raise ethical questions, including how any child from the technique might feel about having DNA from three people.
But critics say the work is irresponsible. Dr. David King from the pro-choice group Human Genetics Alert, said: “It is outrageous that they simply ignored the cautious approach of US regulators and went to Mexico, because they think they know better. Since when is a simplistic “to save lives is the ethical thing to do” a balanced medical ethics approach, especially when no lives were being saved?”
Prof. Darren Griffin, an expert in Genetics at the University of Kent, said: “This study heralds a new era in pre-implantation genetics and represents a novel means for the treatment of families at risk of transmitting genetic disease.
“With radical new treatments like this there are always challenging ethical issues, however any concerns need to be balanced against the ramifications of not implementing such a technology when families are in need of it.”