Science has made many a mama’s baby dreams come true. And now it’s about to make three-person babies a real thing. The UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) was recently given approval to conduct a radical mitochondrial donation IVF procedure. And yes, it’s just as science fiction-y as you’re thinking.
In 2015 a parliamentary vote decided that this type of three-person baby DNA transfer IVF procedure would in fact be legal. Even though confidentiality issues prevent doctors from the Newcastle Fertility Centre (where the procedure will happen) from disclosing the parents or donor, they do reveal that there are two women who carry the gene mutations for a rare condition known as Merrf syndrome.
This degenerative disorder can cause sudden muscle spasms, loss of motor control, deafness, muscle weakness and dementia. The discovery of this mutation meant that neither woman was a candidate for traditional IVF.
The three-person embryo-making process is some pretty hardcore science stuff. But to break it down in a not-so-technical way — mom and dad’s fertilized egg has its nuclear material removed. The donor’s egg is also emptied of the nuclear material, but the healthy mitochondria needed to remove the possibility of the Merrf syndrome mutation is kept. The docs then add the parents’ nuclear material to the donor egg, along with the healthy mitochondria that’s already in the egg and waiting.
If you’re wondering, “Does this actually work?’ the answer is yes. Doctors from the New Hope Fertility Center in NYC used this process, in Mexico, to help a woman who carried the genes for the neurological disease Leigh syndrome. Not only did the IVF treatment work, but the woman gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
Even though the women in the UK are yet to go through the three-person baby-making process, this type of reproductive therapy looks promising when it comes to reducing the risk of life-altering diseases and conditions.
What do you think about a three-person baby? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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