Dr. Zhang, the medical director of the New Hope Fertility Clinic in New York, holds the baby boy who was conceived using the DNA of three people, making it the world’s first baby to have used a ‘triple parented’ fertilization method.
Shockingly, this is not the first ‘three parent’ baby made out there, because this is something that was tested in the late 1990s, but is still new nonetheless.
This method basically used the DNA from the mother and father as well as a tiny genome taken from a donor, so the baby boy would inherit a gene from the donor that inhibits the effects of fatal genetic condition that the mother carries.1
In this case, the three parent family are Jordanians, and the condition was Leigh Syndrome, which has proven to kill any babies after conception. Leigh syndrome is a chronic neurological condition which affects one of around 40,000 newborns, usually occurring in the first year of the baby’s life.
The primary symptoms include, diarrhea, vomiting and trouble with swallowing. This is followed by an inability to move, losing their motor functions and then mental abilities as well, because the defects then grow into damaged parts in the brain. Finally, after all this, these kids then die within a couple of years or so because of the collapse of their respiratory systems.
This condition has been linked to lesser than 80 genetic mutations, which occur in the nucleus (the heart of the cell) but such a mitochondrial-based mutation occurs only for 1 in 5 cases. Which is why scientists are looking for such innovative fertility methods to help families, this fertilization technology is known as, mitochondrial donation.
Mitochondria are basically little powerhouses inside a cell that change the food consumed by an organism into expendable energy. Likewise, some women carry some issues in that mitochondria which eventually is passed to their kids.
And after going through the tragedy of four miscarriages and the death of an eight-month-old and six-year-old, this Jordanian family really needed a cell of hope.
So, Dr. John Zhang and his team, went all the way to Mexico to conduct it because there were no laws that stopped them from doing so there. The reason for its illegality is because, they need to use all the essential DNA from the mother’s embryo and infuse it into the donor’s egg’s mitochondria to create a new healthy defect-free egg, which was then fertilized with the father’s sperm.
So the final egg has 0.1% of donor’s DNA, while the genetically acquired qualities by the baby, such as hair and eye color, all come from the mother and father. They tried this technique with five embryos, out of which one was finally a success.
UK has been one country which has allowed for ‘three parent’ babies to be created.
But, there is still bound to be more ethical banter about this scientific breakthrough before we see it go mainstream or even an option. Likewise, a major question was how would a child feel like growing up knowing that it’s not the average two but three responsible for giving him or her life? Feel unique or like an outcast?
Besides this, scientists are asked to tread cautiously but explore on. Some say it’s not right to play with nature this way, while others say that the success of this could have a cast a huge shadow on the direr consequences of this or even the gravity of the failed attempts.
Being a pioneer move made, there is hope that it will create a whole new generation of medicine where families could by-pass or avoid passing on their genetic conditions to their children. So, Dr. Zhang said he will be presenting his findings at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine this month.
As for every medical breakthrough, especially ones that play with life, ethical issues are ever-present. But, the bigger question is if the balances tip towards helping families in need at the risk of breaking a few laws or even worse creating artificial complications, is one that is clearly relative and case-dependent.