Have any of you had a close family member or know someone who suffered from a mitochondrial disease? Well, there might be hope in the future. There are scientists at Newcastle University, England, who have been attempting to pioneer a procedure which would hopefully help end mitochondrial disease. This technique would involve creating the first three parent babies, in which the mutated DNA could still be passed onto the baby, through procedure.
The technique involves substituting an egg’s defective mitochondrial DNA with that of a healthy genetic material, which would be taken from a female donor. This could help prevent the suffering of children with devitalizing diseases such as muscular dystrophy. For muscular dystrophy there are many different kinds even in that, and people all over the world suffer from the symptoms, which are most of the time term and life threatening. There are almost 100,000 individuals who suffer from mitochondrial diseases in the United States.
This process is called “early pronuclear transfer” and involves the nuclear DNA of the fertilized egg being transplanted into that of a donated egg which has healthy mitochondria. These mitochondria play a very vital role, they convert food into energy for the cells, and if they do not function correctly it prevents normal development.
However despite the hope that it could provide to many, the procedure has been very controversial because it would result in the baby having DNA from three people, and having two mothers. The babies would have 0.1% of their DNA coming from the donating woman, and the genetic material would pass down further generations.
Last year the law was changed by Parliament, in the UK, in order to allow the procedure, however the Human Fertilization Embryology Authority (HFEA) stepped in and stated that before it can be licensed there must be further evidence provided in order to show that the procedure is safe and effective.
However now the scientists have stated that they have succeeded in carrying out the technique on fertilized human embryos, and they have been shown to be developing well. However they have also warned that there is still no guarantee of prevention, and warned that in some cases there was up to 4 percent of the mutated DNA that carried over to the embryo. However despite this a good sign is that the embryos do not show any chromosomal abnormalities, which lead to miscarriage, birth defects, and developmental problems.
The research involved more than 500 eggs from 64 donors. The embryos were only kept alive for 6 days, however they did extract cells from embryo in order to check the development. There was one instance that was worrisome, because it led to the mutated DNA carrying over and reaching disease causing levels. Therefore pregnant women should be screened after the procedure in order to ensure that the baby is developing without having picked up the mutation.
However we must always be careful because no medical treatment no matter how reliable is absolutely safe. Parents thinking of taking on the procedure must make an informed choice, and this new procedure might now provide them another choice.
Professor Mary Herbert, of Newcastle University stated that “We don’t know what it means for development but it’s alerted us to the fact that we really need to work hard to get as close to zero carry-over as we can. It sounds a note of caution for us.”
They also discovered that in order for the embryo to recover and develop properly they would have to carry out the procedure on the first day of fertilization. Now that the risks have been clarified and results of the study have been put out, in the coming months it will be decided by the HFEA whether the license should be granted. If it is granted the first three parents babies would be born next year.
It is hard to lose a loved one, and watching them deteriorate in front of your eyes is even more devastating. Hopefully this news research, if approved, will provide hope for families in the future.