A baby containing the genetic material of three parents has been born through the use of groundbreaking new technology. The baby was born in Mexico, and the procedure carried out by a US team, who chose the central American country as it has no laws that prohibit the procedure.
The technology used is known as ‘mitochondrial donation’, and is carried out by inserting a tiny piece of genetic code (in this case 0.1%) from one person into that of an embryo. This means will still receive all the genes responsible for coding hair colour, eye colour and other physical characteristics from the mother and father, but a small part from another donor is used to ‘fix’ one aspect of ‘faulty DNA’.
In this instance, the child’s Jordanian mother contained a genetic defect which could lead to Leigh syndrome, a severe neurological disorder that would kill any baby conceived through a combination of respiratory and muscular failure. The family had already lost six children – four through miscarriages, one at eight months and one at six years.
While the procedure has been welcomed by many scientists and other groups, there are some critics. People have questioned the morality of creating a child through this method, as they will have no say in having three ‘parents’ but have to live with this unique circumstance. Others have raised concerns about the efficacy of the procedure. The child was actually born five months ago, but the announcement was only made last week. This has led to speculation that there may have been failed attempts, and this particular story has only been released as it is one of success.
The most concentrated criticism came from Dr David King of Human Genetics Alert, who declared it ‘outrageous’ that the team of scientists in question went to Mexico to bypass the ‘cautious approach of US regulators’ and asked: ‘since when is a simplistic “to save lives is the ethical thing to do” a balanced medical ethics approach’?
Nonetheless, many others are very excited about the new technology. While Darren Griffin, a genetics expert at the University of Kent recognises that new treatments such as these always raise ‘challenging ethical issues’, he argues that mitochondrial donation ‘heralds a new era in preimplantation genetics and represents a novel means for the treatment of families at risk of transmitting genetic disease’.