Monday, October 17, 2016

A Baby that has Three Parents?

Normally a baby that is born contains genetics from both the father and the mother.  To think that a baby could have three parents is a bit odd to think about let alone become a reality.  If it were to happen, could that mean one of the parents had cheated on the other and somehow carried multiple eggs or sperm when creating a baby in some way?

No, don't worry.  Nobody cheated on anybody.  In fact, you can thank science for this profound discovery.

What actually occurs is a still controversial process in which genetic material from three different people are combined to create a child.  By doing so, this eliminates the possibility of a child to be born with a fatal genetic disease.  This process was supposedly carried out successfully in Mexico, for the greenlight for this procedure in the United States has yet to receive the go ahead.

Originally published in New Scientist, Dr. John Zhang (pictured above) of New Hope Fertility Center in New York City holds the child and told the story.  He worked with two parents who had already lost two children to a mitochondrial disease, a rare class of conditions caused by defects in the DNA of mitochondria, the organelles that provide energy to cells.  This disease in inherited maternally, so if the mother carries this mutation in her DNA the baby is born with the disease.  Therefore, in order to correct this, Zhang used an approach called spindle nuclear transfer to create five human embryos.  The article on Science described this process very well:

The method involves removing the nucleus—the bulk of a cell’s DNA—from one of the mother’s egg cells, and inserting that nucleus into a donor egg cell stripped of its own nucleus. The result is an egg with mitochondrial DNA from a healthy donor and nuclear DNA from the mother. Five donors eggs prepared this way were then fertilized with the husband’s sperm—but only one of the resulting embryos had a normal number of chromosomes. That embryo was transferred into the mother-to-be.

However, this process has drawn some criticism.  For starters, it is not a published paper or researched topic.  “Right now it’s just, ‘We have done it.’ It’s a claim,” says Dieter Egli, a stem cell biologist at Columbia University.  In addition, “This and other important questions remain unanswered because this work has not been published and the rest of the scientific community has been unable to examine it in detail,” wrote Dusko Ilic, a reader in stem cell science at King’s College London, in a public comment for journalists. “It’s vital that that happens soon.”  Still, some praise Zhang's work.  Clinical embryologist Jacques Cohen of Reprogenetics in Livingston, New Jersey, who has advised Zhang’s team about regulatory issues, states that “just because this was done in Mexico doesn’t mean it was not done ethically,” says Cohen, who himself led controversial fertility experiments in the 1990s involving the transfer of cytoplasm, in which the resulting babies also had three genetic parents.

For now, the question as to whether this procedure is ethically sound is still up in the air.  Regardless, the outcome is incredible, and could shape the future of stem cell research and giving parents the ability to have children if they couldn't before.

For more information, check out the article on Science here:

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/09/unanswered-questions-surround-baby-born-three-parents

In addition, check out the article posted on New Scientist here:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2107219-exclusive-worlds-first-baby-born-with-new-3-parent-technique/?cmpid=SOC|NSNS|2016-Echobox&utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Twitter#link_time=1474985189