It’s a pretty well-known fact that it takes two people to make a baby. But on Thursday, Britain became the first country to approve an in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment that can create babies from three individuals.
Known as mitochondrial transfer, the decision, from Britain’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, comes after Parliament voted last year to amend an existing law that would make the process legal when it became available for licensing. The government’s chief scientific adviser, Mark Walport, said the ruling was “careful and considered.” Babies made using the procedure could arrive around the end of 2017.
“Mitochondrial transfer is used when defective mitochondrial DNA can prevent the birth of a healthy baby,” Dr. Edward Marut, a fertility specialist at Fertility Centers of Illinois, tells Yahoo Beauty. “The mother whose eggs are used retains her main genetic material (chromosomes) in the nucleus of her egg, but mitochondria, the ‘power plants’ of the cell, are transferred from a healthy egg into the egg with abnormal mitochondria. The abnormal mitochondria are generally removed so the baby is normal.”
Dysfunctional mitochondrial can result in mitochondrial diseases that include Mitochondrial myopathy, Diabetes mellitus and deafness, Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, Leigh syndrome, and more.
Dagan Wells, a professor at Oxford University’s biomedical research center, told Reuters that “mitochondrial donation offers a real opportunity to cure a class of potentially devastating inherited conditions and will bring hope to hundreds of affected families in the UK.”
Back in September, scientists announced that the first healthy baby using the technique was born in Mexico. (Abrahim was conceived in Mexico with the help of American doctors, thanks to Mexico’s lax fertility laws. The procedure is not legal in the United States.) According to The Telegraph, the child was born to a couple from Jordan who had been trying to have children for nearly 20 years.
The couple decided to have a three-parent baby for a serious medical reasons: The baby’s mom carries genes for Leigh syndrome, a fatal disorder that impacts the developing nervous system and caused the death of their first two children.
The baby was conceived using an egg with nuclear DNA (DNA from inside the nucleus of a cell) from his mother and father, and mitochondrial DNA (which provides energy for cells) from an anonymous female donor.
According to the New Scientist, doctors removed the nucleus from one of the mother’s eggs and inserted it into a donor egg that had had its own nucleus removed. The egg was then fertilized with the father’s sperm.
The technique, also known as “three-parent” IVF, allows parents with rare genetic mutations to have healthy children, is still controversial. Dr. Jane Frederick, a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist at HRC Fertility, tells Yahoo Beauty that Abrahim’s birth is “encouraging but still experimental.” “This controversial technique of mitochondrial transfer has been attempted in the past with very little success,” she said. “The safety of this method needs to be studied before it can be a standard of care.”
Dr. Carolyn Alexander, a fertility expert at Southern California Reproductive Center, agrees. “The ability to overcome devastating mitochondrial disorders involves exquisite science and carries with it a heavy ethical responsibility,” she tells Yahoo Beauty. “The chances that the affected mitochondria can also get passed is of concern to me — when we remove the nucleus, you can accidentally take bad mitochondria with it. Subsequently, you can get good mitochondria from the donor and bad from the mom that were linked to the nucleus.”