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Mitochondrial donation technique used in Ukraine, doctors claim

17 October 2016

By Ayala Ochert

Appeared in BioNews 873

Two women in the Ukraine are pregnant with babies conceived through mitochondrial donation as an experimental treatment for infertility, according to a report in New Scientist.

The technique was used in an attempt to prevent 'embryo arrest' – a problem in which IVF embryos fail to develop past the two-cell stage.

Dr Valery Zukin, director of the Clinic of Reproductive Medicine in Kiev, told New Scientist that the pregnancies are progressing well so far. 'One, a girl, has now reached 26 weeks, and a boy has reached 20 weeks,' he said. His team also presented their results at the American Reproductive Technology Congress in New York last week.

The Ukrainian team used a technique called pro-nuclear transfer (PNT). Two eggs – one from the mother and one from a donor – are fertilised, and the nuclear material from the mother's embryo is transferred to the donor's embryo. The newly created embryo gets all of its nuclear DNA from its mother and father, but its mitochondrial DNA is inherited from the donor.

The report follows the announcement by Dr John Zhang of the birth in Mexico of the first healthy baby conceived through mitochondrial donation (see BioNews 871). In that case the maternal spindle transfer technique was used to avoid the baby inheriting potentially fatal mitochondrial disease.

Back in 2003, Dr Zhang used PNT in an attempt to treat embryo arrest, theorising that something in the egg cytoplasm itself was preventing the embryo from developing. After much controversy, he finally published his research 13 years later (see BioNews 865).

Although all three fetuses created were later lost, Dr Zhang said that analysis showed that they were healthy, suggesting the technique could be safely used. Dr Zukin in the Ukraine says that early DNA tests on the current fetuses also show that they are genetically healthy.

But there is concern about extending mitochondrial donation to treat infertility. Dr Dean Betts of Western University in Canada says that no one really knows why embryos arrest. 'It doesn't mean the underlying reason why the embryo arrested in the first place is gone, possibly allowing development of an abnormal embryo,' he told New Scientist. 'I think it's too risky. I highly recommend banning this procedure in humans as we don't know enough to ensure its safety.'

Sarah Norcross, director of the Progress Educational Trust, which publishes BioNews, told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme: 'We need to be clear, there are two situations here. Where people are trying to avoid passing on inherited mitochondrial disease, that's one thing. Those women are usually fertile, and they're trying to avoid having a baby with this very serious condition. When we're talking about going overseas because you're failing to get pregnant, because you've got an infertility problem, then it's quite different. There doesn't seem to be any evidence that this works. You're at best wasting your money, and at worst putting yourself at risk.'

The UK is the only country in the world to have introduced legislation specifically allowing mitochondrial donation (no licences have yet been issued), but the law only allows the technique to be used to prevent mitochondrial disease.

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

23 January 2017 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
A baby has been born in the Ukraine following the use of an experimental IVF procedure known as mitochondrial donation...
19 December 2016 - by Annabel Slater 
The UK has become first country in the world to formally approve the creation of IVF embryos through mitochondrial donation...
05 December 2016 - by Dr Julia Hill 
Scientists advising the HFEA have recommended that the technique of mitochondrial replacement therapy be approved for clinical use in the UK...
31 October 2016 - by Georgia Everett 
Seventeen children conceived through ooplasmic transplantation have all matured with regular health and cognitive abilities, according to a study...

10 October 2016 - by Giulia Cavaliere 
The announcement of the first baby born using mitochondrial spindle transfer, one of the two techniques that allow the replacement of faulty mitochondrial DNA, caught the UK scientific and bioethics community by surprise...
03 October 2016 - by Dr Julia Hill 
In a world first, the birth of a baby boy who was conceived using mitochondrial donation has been reported...
28 September 2016 - by César Palacios González 
Dr John Zhang's team have opened a new door in terms of reproductive possibilities, but they may very well be instrumental in closing the assisted reproductive door for many people in Mexico...
22 August 2016 - by Dr Özge Özkaya 
Chinese researchers say an IVF technique called pronuclear transfer can safely produce a viable pregnancy...
22 August 2016 - by Dr Reuven Brandt 
This transnational symposium on mitochondrial donation covered issues ranging from methodological concerns about the development of policy governing mitochondrial donation, to particular ethical puzzles raised by the implementation of the procedures themselves...

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