‘Three-Person Baby’ Born Using Controversial Donor Technique

Some scientists say the method should only be used to prevent genetic diseases being passed on, not as part of standard infertility treatment.

An image made available by the Spanish company Embryotools, shows the birth of a baby with DNA from three people that was conceived using an experimental IVF method called mitochondrial donation.

A woman in Greece has given birth to a baby with DNA from three people – her own, the father, and an egg donor.

The 32-year-old previously had four unsuccessful cycles of IVF before learning that doctors in Spain were carrying out a clinical trial into the three-person method. Reports say she gave birth to a healthy 6lb (2.9kg) boy on Tuesday, and both mother and child are doing well.

A ‘three-person baby’ is conceived using a technique called maternal spindle transfer (MST). It involves removing the nucleus of a healthy donor egg and replacing it with the mother’s DNA. The egg is then fertilised using the father’s sperm. However, some of the donor’s genetic material remains.

The procedure was developed to help prevent women who have mitochondrial diseases from passing them on to their children. Mitochondria are the parts of living cells that turn protein, fats and sugars into useable energy – a kind of biological battery.

The trial was carried out by Barcelona-based Embryotools in collaboration with fertility specialists at the Institute of Life in Athens, Greece. It involved 25 women below the age of 40 who had undergone at least two previous failed attempts at IVF.

A viable solution to infertility?

Despite some doctors questioning its ethics, trial leader and Embryotools co-founder, Dr Nuno Costa-Borges, says the procedure is a viable solution for infertility. He said 99% of the baby’s genes came from its parents and just 1% from the egg donor.

“For some patients it’s very hard to accept they cannot get pregnant with their own [eggs],” he explained. “Spindle transfer may represent a new era in the IVF field as it could give these patients a chance of having a child genetically related to them.”

Dr Panagiotis Psathas, president of the Institute of Life, added: “We are very proud to announce an international innovation in assisted reproduction and we are now in a position to make it possible for women with multiple IVF failures or rare mitochondrial genetic diseases to have a healthy child.”

Embryotools have announced that eight more embryos are ready to be implanted in their mothers.

Fears over unknown risks

Variations of the technique have been used before, with a clinic in Ukraine claiming four children have been born to their patients using MST. In February 2018, doctors in Newcastle, in the UK, were permitted to create three-person babies for two women who might otherwise pass on rare genetic mitochondrial diseases to their children.

Some doctors have argued that using MST as part of infertility treatment is very different to its application in preventing genetic diseases.

Tim Child of the University of Oxford, and medical director of The Fertility Partnership, said: “I’m concerned there’s no proven need for the patient to have her genetic material removed from her eggs and transferred into the eggs of a donor.

“The risks of the technique aren’t entirely known, though may be considered acceptable if being used to treat mitochondrial disease – but not in this situation. The patient may even have conceived if a further standard IVF cycle had been used.”

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