21 Oct 2023 News in English

How the “three-parent baby” practice could fight infertility 

Mitochondrial replacement therapy – the so-called ‘three-parent baby” technique – is a modern medical approach that allows swapping mitochondrial DNA in the human germ cells (or zygotes) to prevent several dangerous genetic diseases. This technique is so called because the procedure uses genetic material from three people – two parents and a donor. 

The MIT Technology Review reported that the three-parent baby technique might help treat infertility and show why humans sometimes struggle to conceive. For now, using MRT to help people with infertility to have a baby is a subject of  ample scientific research and discussions, but some results already available look promising. 

What is MRT? How does it work, and what is the future of this industry? This article explains it in detail. 

Mitochondrial Replacement Overview 

Almost the whole human genome is stored in chromosomes in the cell nucleus, except a group of 37 genes located in mitochondria, called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA. This part of our genome is only passed through the maternal lines, and sometimes these genes may carry particular mutations that lead to genetic disorders. Since its development, MRT has shown promising potential to avoid some of these diseases. 

The “three-parent baby” technique has a few main approaches, all resulting in an embryo with a genome passed from three human individuals. It happens, for instance, by putting parents’ nuclear DNA from sperm and egg cells into the donor’s cytoplasm (with removed nucleus) with its mtDNA. 

How may MRT treat infertility? 

Mitochondria generate power for every biochemical reaction inside cells. Therefore, disruption of their work may lead to insufficient energy for proper cell division. Due to this, some scientists suggest that mitochondria play a role in infertility. 

New research confirmed these assumptions: in this study, as The MIT Tech Review informs, scientists tried to use MRT to treat 25 couples with diagnosed infertility caused by egg cell problems. During the experiment, 19 embryos were transferred to 16 women, 7 of whom got pregnant. Unfortunately, one had miscarried, but the other six had healthy babies – a significant result for people who struggled to conceive. 

Risks and benefits 

A published study shows that the “three-parent therapy” may be helpful in infertility treatment, but this approach still needs more research and evidence to prove its efficiency and safety. In this case, at birth, five babies have more than 99% mtDNA from a donor and about 1% from their mother, except one with around 50% the donor’s mtDNA. 

This phenomenon is called reversion: it happens by random chance during the MRT procedure. This is not a problem if a woman doesn’t carry “sick” genes with mitochondrial disease; otherwise, reversion may affect fetal health. The nature of this phenomenon is still unknown.  

Opinions and views 

Until 2023, most scientists were skeptical about using MRT to cure infertility. For instance, Björn Heindryckx, – professor at Ghent University, claimed in 2015 that Mitochondrial Replacement should be used only for mitochondrial diseases. Furthermore, in 2020, a group of scientists described doctors who use MRT to cure infertility as “complicit… in providing unproven [fertility] technologies to desperate parents willing to pay and try.” 

All these doubts are mainly related to some unsuccessful experiences in 2014-2015, when the OvaScience company provided a new type of IVF procedure, whichinvolved transferring mitochondria from a donor to power a woman’s egg cells – the so-called Augment technique. The firm claimed that this approach helped an infertile couple conceive a baby, but further research showed no evidence to consider Augment as an effective therapy. 

But new studies in 2023 radically changed the views of scientists on how to use MRT technology properly. For instance, Degan Wells, a scientist from the team that worked on the presented research, claims that MRT might treat infertility caused by mitochondrial problems. So, for now, researchers are preparing for a new, bigger experiment with 400 volunteers. 

Let’s sum up 

We can state that the three-parent baby technique shows promising efficiency in infertility treatment. Also, this approach helps scientists study the nature of this disorder.

Nevertheless, it is too early to draw any firm conclusion from the presented research, and the scientific community is still waiting for larger-scale studies.

Like it? Like our project, www.ilike.boston. We constantly monitor and cover the most interesting things happening in the field of science in Massachusetts, New England, and the USA as a whole.  

to our news by mail or in Facebook, and call if you are going to Boston, New York, or another destination in America.

An authentic article of our partner, Henome.com, a media project about human genome. 

Author: Serhii Zhelieznikov 

Editor: Illia Baranikas 

Scientific Editor: Maja Barbalic 


WelcomeToMA © and “Henome.com™. All Rights Reserved. 2023. The use of text materials without modification online for non-commercial purposes is permitted with the mention of the name of the projects “Henome.com”,  "Welcome to MA" © (or the news feed "ILike.Boston" ™) and an active link to the original material on the website or on one of the social networks of the publication.