The United Kingdom’s fertility regulator on May 10 confirmed the births of the country’s first babies created using an experimental technique combining DNA from three people, an effort to prevent the children from inheriting rare genetic diseases.
The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority said fewer than five babies have been born this way in the UK. Most of their DNA comes from their two parents and around 0.1% from a third, donor woman. The pioneering technique is an attempt to prevent children being born with devastating mitochondrial diseases. These diseases are incurable and can be fatal within days or even hours of birth. Some families have lost multiple children and this technique is seen as the only option for them to have a healthy child of their own.
Mitochondria are the tiny compartments inside nearly every cell of the body that convert food into usable energy. Defective mitochondria fail to fuel the body and lead to brain damage, muscle wasting, heart failure and blindness. They are passed down only by the mother. Mitochondrial donation treatment is a modified form of IVF that uses mitochondria from a healthy donor egg.
There are two techniques for performing mitochondrial donation. One takes place before and after the fertilization of the egg. However, mitochondria have their own genetic information or DNA which means that technically the resulting children inherit DNA from their parents and a drop from the donor. This is a permanent change that would be passed down through the generations. This donor DNA is only used for making effective mitochondria and does not affect other traits such as appearance.