It was a first for the entire world: Using a controversial in vitro fertilization technique, doctors in Kiev, Ukraine, helped a previously infertile couple conceive and deliver a baby girl. Some critics say, for genetic reasons, the use of this IVF method should have been restricted to producing a baby boy.
The baby was born on January 5, the result of an experimental technique known as "pronuclear transfer" and sometimes referred to as three-parent IVF. The 34-year-old Ukrainian mother suffered from "unexplained infertility," according to Dr. Valery Zukin, director of the Nadiya Clinic for Reproductive Medicine, where the controversial pronuclear transfer technique was performed. She did not have mitochondrial disease.
That fact is significant to many observers.
'It's not forbidden'
In 2015, the United Kingdom approved pronuclear transfer, but only for women suffering mitochondrial disease. The technique replaces defective mitochondria in a mother's egg with healthy donor mitochrondria as a way of preventing mitochondrial disease from being passed on to a child.
The reason this experimental method is a cause for concern -- and was vigorously debated in the UK before approval -- is the genetic modifications produced in a girl baby could be passed onto her children, according to Lori P. Knowles, adjunct assistant professor at the University of Alberta School of Public Health.
Boy babies carrying donor mitochondria cannot pass their modified genetics onto any future children they may have because once a sperm fuses with an egg to form an embryo, the masculine mitochondrion withers and dies leaving the resulting embryo with only mitochondrion from the mother's egg.
"I do think it's highly significant that this is a girl because we know for sure that she will be passing on her mitochondrial DNA through her maternal line," said Knowles. If in the future this baby girl has genetic children, they will inherit her genetic modifications "and that's always been a really bright line," said Knowles -- a line not to be crossed until rigorous scientific testing proves it is safe.
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