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First baby born in mitochondrial donation for infertility trial

15 April 2019
Appeared in BioNews 995

A baby conceived via IVF using genetic material from three people has been born to a mother not affected by mitochondrial disease.

Mitochondrial donation was developed as a way to prevent babies from inheriting life-threatening mitochondrial diseases from their mothers. However, as part of a trial conducted between Spanish company Embryotools and the Institute of Life IVF Centre in Athens, Greece, the procedure was used for the fertility treatment of a woman with poor egg quality.

'We are now in a position to make it possible for women with multiple IVF failures or rare mitochondrial genetic diseases to have a healthy child,' said Dr Panagiotis Psathas, president of the Institute of Life clinic. Dr Nuno Costa-Borges, scientific director of Embryotools added: 'The completely successful and safe implementation of the maternal spindle transfer method – for the first time in medical history – is a revolution in assisted reproduction.'

The procedure, known as maternal spindle transfer, involves extracting the nucleus from a mother's egg and transferring it into a donor egg, which has had its nucleus removed. This combined egg is then fertilised with the father's sperm and implanted into the mother. The resulting embryo has chromosomes from the mother and father, but also retains mitochondrial DNA from the donor.

The doctors' claims of novelty and safety have been questioned. A previous birth following maternal spindle transfer occurred in Mexico in 2016, to a woman affected by the mitochondrial disease Leigh Syndrome (see BioNews 871). An alternative mitochondrial donation method – pronuclear transfer – was used for infertility in Ukraine (see BioNews 885) in 2017.

Alastair Sutcliffe, professor of general paediatrics at UCL, who was not involved in the work, commented: 'The curious thing is the claim that it is safe after the birth one of one healthy baby.'

The application of mitochondrial donation to treat infertility has also raised ethical concerns.

Medical director of the Fertility Partnership and professor at the University of Oxford, Tim Child, said: 'I'm concerned that there's no proven need for the patient to have her genetic material removed from her eggs and transferred into the eggs of a donor. The risks of the technique aren't entirely known, though may be considered acceptable if being used to treat mitochondrial disease, but not in this situation.'

In this case, the 32-year-old mother had undergone four unsuccessful rounds of IVF treatment and had poor egg quality. Although she was not at risk of passing on mitochondrial disease to her child, she was put forward for the trial since scientists have speculated that higher mitochondrial function in eggs may increase the chances of successful IVF. This has not been proved.

The trial continues. 24 other women are participating, with eight embryos currently ready for implantation.

First 3-parent baby born in clinical trial to treat infertility
New Scientist |  11 April 2019
Press release
Institute of Life |  9 April 2019
Three-parent baby born to 'infertile' mother is unethical, say British experts
The Telegraph |  11 April 2019
'Three-person' baby boy born in Greece
BBC News |  11 April 2019
6 December 2021 - by Michaela Chen 
A bill permitting mitochondrial donation has been passed by the Australian House of Representatives...
8 February 2021 - by Michaela Chen 
The Australian Parliament is set to have its first conscience vote on legislation allowing access to mitochondrial donation...
3 June 2019 - by Jenny Sharpe 
Mitochondria are not as interchangeable as originally thought, with implications for the selection of donors for mitochondrial donation...
28 January 2019 - by Jen Willows 
Greek and Spanish researchers have announced that a clinical trial using mitochondrial donation to treat infertility has resulted in a pregnancy...
17 October 2016 - by Ayala Ochert 
Two women in the Ukraine are pregnant with babies conceived through mitochondrial donation as a treatment for infertility, according to a report in New Scientist...
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