A revolutionary procedure in reproductive medicine known as mitochondrial donation treatment (MDT) has led to the birth of the UK’s first baby carrying DNA from three individuals. This breakthrough method aims to prevent the inheritance of incurable diseases.
What Is Mitochondrial Donation Treatment?
MDT is a novel form of in vitro fertilization (IVF) that combines sperm and egg from biological parents with healthy mitochondria from a donor’s egg. By doing this, the resulting embryos are free from harmful mutations that might otherwise be passed down from the mother.
The so-called “three-parent” term stems from the fact that the baby inherits DNA from three people: the mother, father, and mitochondrial donor. However, more than 99.8% of the baby’s DNA still comes from the biological parents, with only a small percentage (~37 genes) from the donor.
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Pioneering Research In The UK
Innovative work on MDT, also known as mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT), was led by doctors at the Newcastle Fertility Centre.
They sought to help women with mutated mitochondria, the “batteries” of cells, conceive babies without risking passing on genetic disorders. These mutations can affect all children a woman has and can lead to severe and often fatal diseases.
The Legislative Landscape And Clinical Application
After progress in MDT research, UK parliament permitted the procedure in 2015. Subsequently, the Newcastle clinic became the first national centre licensed to perform it, with the first cases approved in 2018.
The UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has since approved at least 30 cases, assessing each on an individual basis.
Despite the groundbreaking nature of this procedure, the Newcastle clinic has kept specific birth details confidential to protect patient privacy. However, as per a Guardian freedom of information request, the HFEA confirmed that a small number of “three-parent” babies have now been born in the UK.
Understanding The Procedure And Its Risks
The MDT process involves several steps. First, eggs from both the mother and a healthy donor are fertilized with the father’s sperm. Then, the nuclear genetic material from the donor’s egg is replaced with that from the mother’s fertilized egg.
This results in an egg carrying the parents’ chromosomes but with the donor’s healthy mitochondria. Despite its promising nature, the procedure has risks, including potential multiplication of any abnormal mitochondria from the mother in the womb.
The UK is not the first country to report MDT births. A US doctor announced the world’s first MDT birth in 2016 after treating a Jordanian woman. The procedure was performed in Mexico due to the woman’s mitochondrial mutations causing Leigh syndrome, a fatal condition.
Leading experts stress the need for long-term follow-up of children born through MDT and for the technology to be used in a measured regulated way. The HFEA continues to review clinical and scientific developments, noting that these are still early days for MDT.
Nevertheless, the potential of MDT to offer families with severe inherited mitochondrial illnesses the possibility of a healthy child marks a significant step forward in reproductive medicine