The United Kingdom has approved in-vitro fertilization via a procedure which uses the genetic material of three people. Surrogacy and IVF advocates are hailing the decision as a breakthrough in providing much-needed treatment for intended mothers with mitochondrial disorders, as it would permit them to bear children who are their own genetic offspring.
The procedure is not without a certain critical element, with some individuals even referring to it as a “bizarre experiment” taken straight from the pages of science fiction. Others assert that scientists are once more “playing God” within the field of human reproduction.
An article from the September 2014 publication of New Scientist makes a more grounded claim, which continues to inspire controversy. Within the article, we are introduced to research which suggests that mitochondria play a much more involved role in a person's life than that of a simple power plant. It is even suggested that they grow and evolve over the course of a person's lifespan, and may play a role in a wide range of functions – from aging, to obesity.
Proponents of the treatment, aside from pointing out that this research is far from conclusive, argue that it makes no ethical difference in the practice. As an IVF treatment, 3-person IVF falls far short of “customizing” a human being, which reference to the aforementioned research would seem to imply. It is being used only to overcome a variety of conditions which make it otherwise impossible for a woman to bear her own genetically related offspring.
“This is an opportunity to offer real hope to families” says Lord Howe, the United Kingdom's Deputy Leader of the House of Lords. From 1997 through 2010, Lord Howe was the UK Parliament's Spokesman for Health. "Families can see that the technology is there to help them, and are keen to take it up. They have noted the conclusions of the expert panel.
"It would be cruel and perverse, in my opinion, to deny them that opportunity for any longer than absolutely necessary."
The following BBC News article has proven to be very helpful in explaining the process of how 3-person IVF works. It provides the source for the following diagram:
Two eggs are fertilized with sperm. This results in the creation of two embryos. One embryo is created from an egg belonging to the intended parents, while the other comes from an egg donor.
Each egg's pronucleus, the fertile cellular nucleus which contain an embryo's genetic information, is removed. The pronucleus belonging to the egg which came from the intended mother is kept.
Initial trials are currently underway in the UK, but the results so far are promising. If this technique proves to be viable, it will mean that a barrier once thought insurmountable will have been pulled down. The procedure offers the potential for millions of women with mitochondrial disorders to bear their own genetic offspring.
All Things Conceivable is a blog dedicated to sharing the knowledge and expert opinions of the dedicated team at ConceiveAbilities, a Chicago-based egg donation and surrogacy agency.