A child conceived using a controversial three-parent embryo technique was born on Jan. 5 in the Ukraine, the Daily Mail reports.
Doctors said the child’s 34-year-old mother was infertile and had tried unsuccessfully for years to become pregnant through in vitro fertilization. Her child was created using her eggs fertilized with her partner’s sperm that was then transferred into a donor egg, according to the report.
The baby, a boy, is “completely healthy,” according to doctors’ initial tests. Most of his DNA is from his parents, but a small amount comes from the second woman, the egg donor, according to the report.
Another woman who used the same procedure is expected to give birth in March, according to the report.
Dr. Valery Zukin, a Kiev doctor who performed the procedures, described the three-parent baby technology as “the opening of a new era.”
“Before, we could only increase the selection of embryos. But for us this moment opens up the possibility of augmenting embryos,” Zukin said.
Ethicists and others have many concerns about the new technology, though. Professor Adam Balen, chairman of the British Fertility Society, said it was “something that needs to be extremely carefully thought through and treated with caution.”
Some worry that the three-parent embryo method will lead to the creation of designer babies, while others point out that some techniques already are destroying human lives.
Previously, Dr. Stuart Newman, a leading cell biologist and professor at New York Medical College, questioned both the science and the ethics of the method. “The mitochondria are . . . participants in the development of the organism. This clearly makes any person [brought into being from the procedure] a product of wholesale genetic engineering.”
The committee calls it mitochondrial replacement techniques (MRT) because the goal is too “replace” defective mitochondria in woman with mitochondrial disease so they do not pass their genetic mutation onto their children.
We all have genetic material outside our nucleus in our mitochondria called mtDNA. We inherit our mtDNA solely from our mother. The mitochondria we inherit are in our mother’s egg.
There are two MRT procedures that the committee endorsed. One takes a donor egg and removes its nucleus, replacing it with the nucleus of the egg of a woman with defective mtDNA. This creates a hybrid egg with the genetic material from two women. That genetically modified egg is then fertilized with sperm.
The second technique is a step further, manipulating not eggs but embryos after fertilization. It requires two embryos. One embryo with defective mitochondria and one “donor” embryo with healthy mitochondria. The nucleus of the healthy embryo is removed, and it is replaced with the nucleus of embryo with defective mtDNA. Two embryos are taken apart and destroyed to make a hybrid third embryo.
Both techniques are genetic engineering. Both techniques create embryos with genetic material from three people. Both are germ-line modifications, meaning they will be passed on to future generations by any female children made with these procedures.
Late last year, government regulators in the United Kingdom allowed scientists to begin creating three-parent embryos. In February 2016, President Barack Obama’s actions surrounding the issue drew concern when he removed pro-life embryo-protection language from the proposed 2017 budget.