Monday 15 April 2019

'Three-person baby' born after world's first clinical trials of controversial technique

Doctors raise concerns over use of procedure to treat infertility rather than purely to prevent disease

Fertility doctors say a “three-person baby” has been born in Greece, using genetic material from two women and a man.

The technique was reportedly used to overcome the mother’s infertility – she had tried IVF treatment four times without success.

The 32-year-old Greek mother then heard about a clinical trial of the new method by Spanish doctors.

The medical team in Barcelona used a technique called maternal spindle transfer (MST), in which maternal DNA is put into the egg of a donor woman, which is then fertilised using the father’s sperm.

The technique hinges on cell structures called mitochondria which turn food sources into useable energy.

The procedure was developed to help existing IVF treatments in which mothers have mitochondrial diseases. To avoid passing these on, the nucleus in the donor woman’s healthy egg is removed, and the mother’s nucleus inserted. The vast majority of the mother’s DNA is contained in the nucleus, but a small amount of DNA remains in the mitochondria in the donor egg.

The healthy baby was born on Tuesday and reportedly weighed 6lbs (2.9kg). The mother is also well.

But the technique remains controversial and some doctors have questioned the ethics of the procedure.

A Spanish company called Embryotools collaborated with fertility specialists at a clinic in Athens called the Institute of Life.

The study took on 25 women under 40 years old who had already had at least two previous failed IVF attempts.

The team had to conduct the trial in Greece because the procedure is not approved in Spain, according to health news website Stat News, which reported the woman’s pregnancy in January this year.

The trial’s leader and co-founder Embryotools, Dr Nuno Costa-Borges, insisted the procedure is a useful solution for infertility.

He told the website that in this case 99 per cent of the baby’s genes come from its mother and father, and just one per cent from the egg donor. 

“For some patients, it’s very hard to accept that they cannot get pregnant with their own [eggs],” he said.

“Spindle transfer may represent a new era in the IVF field, as it could give these patients chances of having a child genetically related to them.”

The president of the Institute of Life, Dr Panagiotis Psathas, said: “Today, for the first time in the world, a woman’s inalienable right to become a mother with her own genetic material became a reality.

“As Greek scientists, 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.”

Variations of the technique have been used before, with families from Jordan, Mexico, and Ukraine. Those cases also sparked controversy.

In the UK, doctors in Newcastle were given the green light in February last year to use the technique to create Britain’s first three-person babies for two women who may otherwise pass on genetic diseases to their children.

Some academics have expressed their concerns about using the procedure to treat infertility rather than only to prevent disease.

Tim Child, from the University of Oxford and the medical director of The Fertility Partnership, told the BBC: “I’m concerned that 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.”

(Source: Independent)

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