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New Technology Could Eliminate One Type of Genetic Disease

a blog by Kim Griffiths, March 22, 2013

A study published in the journal Nature in October 2012 discussed the new, seemingly sci-fi, technique that could help couples prevent genetic conditions from being passed down from mother to child. Scientists at Oregon Health and Sciences University suggested that a small amount of DNA from a donor could be transplanted into the intended mother’s egg to replace her faulty DNA, and then combined with the sperm of the intended father. If you’re still following, that means the child would be biologically related to three parents: two mothers and one father. The process would be very similar to in vitro fertilization (IVF) with egg donation, but the mother would have her own eggs transferred back into her uterus.

News has surfaced this week that the UK has taken a step toward becoming the first country to permit the donor DNA transplant. The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has stated that there is no evidence of safety concerns with this remarkable technology, though ethical concerns have been voiced; the benefits appear to outweigh the risks.

The idea is to prevent one type of inheritance family members don't want to receive, mitochondrial disease, to be passed down from a mother to her offspring. The mother may be a carrier with no physical indications of disease, yet the impact on the child could be severe or even result in death. Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, and maternally inherited diabetes and deafness are examples of genetic diseases passed down from mother to child. Mitochondria are the power houses responsible for energy conversion in each cell of the body, so addressing mitochondrial disease is a strong concern. Mitochondria are exclusively passed down from mother to child.

There is still a need for longitudinal research to determine the health outcomes of offspring born from this technique. Currently the UK and US are the countries closest to implementing the technology which will help thousands of women give birth to healthy children.


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