American doctors have announced the first successful birth of a baby conceived using Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy (MRT) -- a controversial new assisted reproductive technique. A team of doctors based in the US travelled to Mexico to perform the experimental procedure on a Jordanian couple who had previously given birth to children with severe genetic disorders.
MRT involves the transfer of 'healthy' mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from a donor into the egg of a mother known to have unhealthy mtDNA. The two most popular methods of transfer are known as pronuclear transfer, which has been approved for use in the UK, and spindle nuclear transfer, which was performed on the couple in question.
The baby boy was born without any detectable genetic conditions. Two earlier children born to the couple suffered from Leigh Syndrome, a genetic condition that affects the developing nervous system.
The pregnancy was overseen by Professor John Zhang from New Hope Fertility Center in New York City. Professor Zhang says he would "love to ... reach out to more families that might need help". Professor Zhang says he has no ethical regrets about carrying out the experimental procedure in a country where "there are no rules". “To save lives is the ethical thing to do,” he told the New Scientist.
However, other researchers questioned the ethics of the procedure. First, this is science by press release. Media reports were largely based on an article in New Scientist, which supplemented an abstract in the journal Fertility and Sterility of a presentation to be given at a conference later this month. Details are very sketchy. Second, the procedure was carried out in Mexico to evade oversight by the FDA.
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