London – U.K.’s fertility supervisory body, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, verified on Wednesday that the first infants in the country conceived using a pioneering technique involving DNA from three individuals have been born. This method aims to safeguard the children from uncommon genetic illnesses.
Guarding Patient Privacy
It was stated that less than five babies have been delivered in this manner in the U.K., although specific details were not disclosed to safeguard the privacy of the families. The Guardian newspaper was the first to bring this news to light.
Legislation and Mitochondrial Disorders
In 2015, the U.K. was the pioneer in adopting laws to regulate techniques designed to help women with defective mitochondria – the cell’s energy factory – from transmitting these flaws to their offspring. The first baby in the world conceived using this technique was born in the U.S. in 2016.
The Procedure and Its Impact
Faulty mitochondria can result in diseases like muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, heart disorders, and cognitive disabilities. Roughly one in 200 British children are born with a mitochondrial disorder. So far, permission for such treatment has been granted to 32 patients.
For a woman with defective mitochondria, scientists extract genetic material from her egg or embryo and transfer it into a donor egg or embryo that still contains healthy mitochondria but has had its other significant DNA removed. The resulting embryo is then implanted into the mother’s womb. The genetic material from the donated egg forms less than 1% of the offspring produced from this procedure.
Hope for Families and the Role of Regulatory Authority
“Mitochondrial donation treatment provides families suffering from severe inherited mitochondrial diseases with the chance of having a healthy child,” stated the U.K. fertility regulator on Wednesday. While it’s still in the early stages, the agency hopes that the Newcastle University scientists involved will soon publish the treatment’s details.
Every woman in Britain undergoing the treatment must receive approval from the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority. The regulator stipulates that to qualify, families must have no other alternatives to prevent transmitting genetic disease.
Controversies and Concerns
Many detractors are against these artificial reproduction techniques. They argue there are alternative methods to prevent disease transmission to offspring, such as egg donation or screening tests, and that the experimental techniques have not been demonstrated as safe yet.
Moreover, there are concerns that manipulating the genetic code in this way could pave the way for “designer babies,” where parents not only aim to avoid inherited diseases but also desire children with enhanced physical or intellectual traits.
Monitoring and Future Research
Robin Lovell-Badge, a stem cell specialist at the Francis Crick Institute, a London-based biomedical research center, emphasized the importance of tracking the infants’ future growth.
He expressed interest in understanding how effectively the technique worked in practice, whether the infants are free of mitochondrial disease, and if there’s any risk of developing issues later in life.
European scientists published a study earlier this year indicating that in some instances, the small number of abnormal mitochondria inevitably transmitted from the mother’s egg to the donor’s could multiply in the womb, potentially leading to a genetic disease.
Lovell-Badge stated that the causes of such issues are not yet known and that methods to mitigate these risks need to be developed.
First babies born in Britain using DNA from three people https://t.co/jEM44q7YjV
— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) May 11, 2024
Past Successes and Looking Forward
Research evaluating another method of creating babies from three people, including an egg donor, discovered that the children were doing well as teenagers several years later. They showed no signs of unusual health issues and performed well academically.
The first baby conceived using the mitochondria donation technique was announced by U.S. doctors, following the treatment conducted in Mexico.