Baby born using experimental three-person technique sparks warning from doctors

by David Gilbert
Jan 18 2017, 9:21am

A couple who spent a decade trying to conceive have become the first to successfully use a “three-person IVF” method to treat infertility this month — but experts warn that the treatment is still highly experimental and there is not enough proof that it can improve the chances of getting pregnant.

A clinic in Ukraine revealed Wednesday that doctors there had used an experimental technique called pronuclear transfer, which sees the father’s sperm combined with the mother’s egg before the merged genes are placed into an egg donated by a third woman. The egg was then implanted into the mother’s womb and on January 5, the 34-year-old gave birth naturally to a baby girl. The child will have the genetic identity of her parents as well as trace amounts of DNA from the donor woman.

Dr. Valery Zukin, who led the procedure at the Nadiya clinic, posted a video on Facebook of an IVF fertilization in progress.

The use of three-person IVF, or mitochondrial replacement therapy, was originally developed to help prevent parents passing on devastating genetic disorders to their children. Its use in the treatment of infertility in healthy couples is controversial and some claim its efficacy has yet to be proven.

“There is little or no evidence to support the use of mitochondrial transfer to improve egg or embryo quality or reverse egg ageing,” Dr. Jane Stewart, secretary of the British Fertility Society, told VICE News. “There is certainly not enough research evidence available to justify its use in the clinical setting for improving IVF outcomes.”

Last month the U.K. made the historic decision to approve three-person IVF treatment, but only for the treatment of genetic diseases, with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) announcing that clinics could apply to carry out the treatment on behalf of their clients after it considered the latest scientific evidence for the safety of the procedure.

The move came almost two years after the U.K. parliament had voted to approve the technique. There are currently no plans to consider using three-person IVF for fertility treatment in the U.K., a spokesperson for the HFEA told VICE News, adding that it would require a change in the law before it could happen.

The girl born in Ukraine is not the first baby to be born with the DNA of three people. Last April a boy became the first baby born using three-person IVF, though in that case a technique called maternal spindle transfer was used. The technique was used to prevent the passing on of a genetic condition called Leigh Syndrome carried by his mother.

The treatment was carried out by a U.S. team of doctors but took place in Mexico, where there are no laws prohibiting its use. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration has met to consider approving the treatment but has yet to sanction it, and a committee of the Institute of Medicine is investigating the ethical implications of the technique.

The main reason for the delay in approving the treatment is the vocal opposition to it by people who worry it will lead to a rise in so-called “designer babies” — even though the technique cannot be used to alter traits such as eye or hair color.