Power to the people

A new IVF technique that reduces the risk of mitochondrial diseases, which affect over 100,000 Australians, has been developed by researchers of the Oregon Health and Science University. In what is likely to be an extremely sensitive ethical issue, the fertilised egg cell contains genetic material from three different individuals.

Mitochondria are organelles that process transfer the energy stored in sugars, fats and proteins into a ubiquitous form for cell functioning. Mitochondria, just like chloroplasts, are believed to arisen from bacterium species that were engulfed by a primitive eukaryotic cells, the cell found in animals, plants, fungus and some bacteria, and forming a symbiotic relationship. The fact that mitochondria have their own DNA is evidence of this evolutionary event.

The research published in Nature outlines technique known as “spindle transfer”, where the nucleus of one egg cell replaces that of a donor egg cell of another woman, and subsequently fertilised by a donor sperm cell. The major benefit of this is allowing women with a history of mitochondrial disorders to have children without the risk of transmitting the disease.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov’s group has so far successfully cultured embryos that has undergone the technique for five days. It is unlikely that “spindle transfer” IVF will be adopted in the near future, but early evidence is promising.

In 2009 Mitalipov conducted spindle transfer IVF on macaque monkey egg cells and reinserted the fertilized cells into the mother’s wombs. No problems were reported during gestation and new-born monkeys, even three years on, have shown no development issues as yet.

Mitchondrial dysfunction is a cause of many diseases including epilepsy, neurodevelopmental disorders and diabetes mellitus and deafness. Despite the obvious benefits of spindle transfer IVF in preventing these diseases, its is likely to provoke a negative response from some sections of the community.

One Response to “Power to the people”

  1. Anthony Agosta says:

    Great post, I enjoyed the read.

    Using genetic material from three different people to fertilise an egg is definitely a world first. Not only is it in the cutting edge of science, but also in that of ethics. Essentially the child will have the genetic material of three people (it will have three parents). The majority of its DNA coming from the mother and father, but around 1% of mitochondrial DNA coming from a donor.

    I believe that this IVF technique should be welcomed by the public, as it aims to prevent these rare ‘mitochondrial diseases’ (affecting less than 0.5% of the population) which arise due to mutations in the mother’s mitochondria gene. And if its ultimate goal is to produce a healthy child that would have otherwise been inflected by this decease then the technique should be praised.