The treatment has the potential to allow parents to conceive children without the risk of passing on some genetic diseases, as well as possibly extending the age at which a mother might be able to fall pregnant. This is significant when one considers that approximately 9% of couples at any given time experience infertility. Furthermore, recent statistics show that the use of assisted reproductive technologies is on the rise in both Australia and New Zealand.
The Jordanian couple at the heart of this treatment had been trying for nearly twenty years to fall pregnant. The boy’s biological mother is a carrier of the mitochondrial disease Leigh Syndrome; a severe neurological disorder that could severely impact upon any unborn baby if passed on. The condition means loss of mental and movement ability, and typically results in death within two to three years of diagnosis.
After losing two infants to the disease and suffering four miscarriages, the couple sought the help of fertility specialist Dr John Zang, who ended up performing the procedure.
The procedure – called pronuclear transfer – involved the biological father, the biological mother and an egg donor. Both the mother’s egg and the donor egg are fertilised with the father’s sperm. Before the fertilised eggs start diving into embryos, the nucleus from each egg is removed. The nucleus from the donor’s fertilised egg is discarded and replaced by that from the mother’s fertilised egg. The result is that the diseased mitochondria is not then carried on to the embryo.
Zang and his team performed the treatment in Mexico, as it is currently not approved in the United States due to safety concerns. Although approved in the UK, this young boy’s birth marks the first successful case under the treatment.
The procedure is not without its flaws however, with critics arguing it has the potential to be exploited for those who wish to develop “designer babies”. Moreover, specialists agree that further tests need to be completed before the procedure can be guaranteed to be performed safely and efficiently.