The fertility regulator in the United Kingdom (UK) has confirmed the birth of a baby using the DNA of three individuals for the first time. The majority of the baby’s genetic material comes from its two parents, with around 0.1 per cent coming from a donor woman.
This innovative technique is designed to prevent the birth of babies with mitochondrial diseases, which can be fatal within days or hours of birth and are incurable. Less than five babies have been born using this method, and no further information about them has been released.
Mitochondrial diseases are caused by defective mitochondria, which fail to generate energy and can lead to serious health problems, including brain damage, heart failure, and blindness. Mitochondria are inherited only from the mother, so this technique involves using healthy mitochondria from a donor egg to replace the affected mitochondria in the mother’s egg.
Mitochondrial donation treatment is a modified form of IVF, and there are two techniques for performing it. This method was pioneered in Newcastle, and laws were introduced to allow the creation of such babies in the UK in 2015. However, the first baby born using this technique was in the US to a Jordanian family in 2016.
The technique has been described as a permanent change that would be passed down through generations, but it only affects mitochondrial DNA and not other traits such as appearance, nor does it constitute a “third parent”. There is a risk of “reversion,” where any remaining defective mitochondria could still result in disease.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has confirmed the birth of fewer than five babies using mitochondrial donation treatment, but it has not provided any precise numbers to protect the families’ identities. This news is seen as a significant step in the cautious process of assessing and refining mitochondrial donation.
More information is needed to determine the success of this technique, and whether the babies are free of mitochondrial disease and at risk of developing health issues later in life.
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