A team of Greek and Spanish doctors has produced a baby from three people using a controversial IVF technique.
The experimental procedure, which used DNA from the patient, sperm from the father, and an egg from a donor woman, was developed to help families affected by deadly mitochondrial diseases inherited from mothers.
In this case it was used to help a 32-year-old patient in Greece who had endured four unsuccessful cycles of IVF. She gave birth to a baby boy weighing 6 pounds (2.9 kg) on April 9. The mother and child are said to be in good health.
“We are very proud to announce an international innovation in assisted reproduction, and we are now in a position to make it possible for women with multiple IVF failures or rare mitochondrial genetic diseases to have a healthy child,” said Dr. Panagiotis Psathas, president of the Institute of Life in Athens, in a statement.
The statement added that the doctors were “making medical history” to help infertile couples around the world. “A woman’s inalienable right to become a mother with her own genetic material became a reality,” said Psathas.
The Greek doctors were working with the Spanish center Embryotools, which said in the statement that 24 other women are taking part in the trial and eight embryos are ready to be implanted.
The technique was used in Mexico in 2016 to produce a baby for a family with mitochondrial disease complications. It was also used in Ukraine in 2017 to produce a baby for a 34-year-old Ukrainian mother suffering from “unexplained infertility.”
This new advancement in in vitro fertilization, which was developed by doctors in the UK, allows the donation of mitochondria, which provides energy for cells, to mothers with mutations within the DNA of their own mitochondria so they do not pass the mutations on to their child.
In February 2018, the UK team that pioneered the technology were given permission to create the country’s first three-person babies for families with mitochondrial disease.
In the Greek case, the technique has allowed the mother to pass on her genes to her son, albeit with a small genetic contribution from the donor woman as mitochondria have their own DNA.
However, some experts say the technique raises ethical questions and should be banned in cases not involving disease.
Tim Child, from the University of Oxford and the medical director of the Fertility Partnership, said that he is concerned that in this recent case there was no proven need for the patient to have her genetic material removed from her eggs and transferred into the eggs of a donor.
“The patient does not have an inherited disorder that is being treated by spindle transfer [the name of the technique], unlike women with inherited mitochondrial disease,” Child said. “The risks of the technique aren’t entirely known, though may be considered acceptable if being used to treat mitochondrial disease, but not in this situation.”
Child added that the patient may have conceived even if a further standard IVF cycle had been used. “Without a proper well designed study, with the use of controls, it is not possible to say whether this technique has benefited the patient,” he concluded.