In recent news, the UK Government just approved the making of babies from 3 people rather than the conventional and biological 2. The move has been met with an abundance of controversy and debate. The production is an advanced form of IVF and was developed by medics from Nottingham.
Research suggests that the first of these babies may be born as early as late 2017. The technique was initially developed in the 1990s in order to combat infant mortality as a result of mitochondrial defects inherited from the mother. Leigh Syndrome was rife amongst women who were predisposed to the genes’ children. Symptoms began to appear in the first year of life and many families suffered through the heart ache of multiple infant deaths, some whilst still in the womb. Leigh Syndrome affects the mitochondria as a result of a genetic mutation in the DNA of the fetus, which eventually leads to a loss of mobility and death within three years of life. 1/5 of the mutations is as a result of a mitochondrial defect whereas the others as a result of DNA mutation.
The method involves the extraction of all viable and useful DNA from the mother’s egg and the healthy mitocondria from the donor egg to produce a new egg. The new egg contains around 0.1% donor DNA. The process is called pronuclear transfer and was first tested using mice in 1983, since then the process has een refined and redevelopped for safe use in humans.
In January 2017 a baby girl was born in Ukraine using pronuclear transfer and another couple is expecting a male child in the following months.
Last year, a baby boy was born using a process known as spindle transfer. Spindle fibres and chromosomes are removed from a donor egg and replaced by those of the mother. The egg is then fertilsied by the fathers’ sperm. This method posseses a higher risk as chromosomes are suceptible to falling off the spindles when they are implanted so this can lead to a child being born, lacking vital chromosomes or too many. The boy who was born last April appeared to be in perfect health, however in many diseases, symptoms become visible in their first few years of life, so he is being monitored carefully.
Despite the UK passing laws condoning the use of this method in cases where the mother is affected by the mitochondrial disease, the doctors involved and parents have received a large backlash of criticism, regarding the ethics of the process. Proffessor Murdoch from the Newcastle team stated that: “The translation of mitochondrial donation to a clinical procedure is not a race but a goal to be achieved with caution to ensure both safety and reproducibility.” At the moment the method is almost exclusively used for parents where the mother has a mitochondrial defect so many argue that is not a violation of ethics but rather a preventitive measure against the mitochondrial disease, whereas others argue that it is simply fertility treatment. In many cases, arguments suggest that whilst these procedures increase life expectancy to over 3 years of age, they may lead to more problems as the child ages and can lead to a very poor quality of life.
In these cases, it is important to understand that there is a very fine line within medical ethics and what can be seen as a preventitive measure can cause more harm in the future. Despite this it is important to acknowledge that 3 healthy infants have been born and only time will tell how these procedures will affect this children and others like them, in the future.