The same doctor who delivered the first “three parent baby” is now attempting to commercialise mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT). Dr John Zhang of New Hope Fertility Clinic in New York is now offering MRT for older women suffering from infertility. For roughly US$80,000, women can avail themselves of what New Hope calls “revolutionary technology designed to reverse the effects of age on human oocytes and repair certain cellular defects.”
At the heart of Zhang’s entrepreneurial project is the idea that the cause of infertility in older women is defective mitochondrial DNA. Zhang’s experimental procedure involves inserting the nucleus of an older woman’s oocyte into a young egg with healthy mitochondrial DNA (a procedure known as spindle nuclear transfer). In doing so, he believes he will allow older women to produce viable embryos.
MRT is currently illegal in the US, so Zhang’s company, Darwin Life, has set up a clinic in Guadalajara, Mexico, where they can perform the procedure. Zhang says his company has already received hundreds of enquiries from prospective patients.
Many are critical of the new experimental technique.
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“This is a biologically extreme and risky procedure,” says Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, a group that questions advances in biotechnology. “If you’re talking about using these techniques for age-related infertility, that’s really moving the human experimentation to a very large scale.”
Yet Zhang’s plans go much further than treating infertility. He says a future step will be to combine the technique with editing genes, so that parents can select hair or eye color, or maybe improve their children’s IQ. “Everything we do is a step toward designer babies,” Zhang told the MIT Technology Review. “With nuclear transfer and gene editing together, you can really do anything you want.”