Infertility is a common problem among women, as there are over 6.1 million cases in the US, and can cause a woman and her partner much devastation. Luckily, there are techniques developed that allow infertile women to be able to bear her own child. One of the recent methods is called mitochondrial donation, although this technique wasn’t made for infertility.
Mitochondrial donation is an in-vitro fertilization process that substitutes a mother’s diseased mitochondria for the healthy mitochondria of a surrogate. This procedure allows the mother to bear her own genetic child without risking passing on mitochondrial disease, which is a disorder in which the mitochondria can’t fully process food and produce enough energy for the proper functioning of the cells and body.
There are several ways to carry out mitochondrial donation, but the two most common ones are spindle nuclear transfer and pronuclear transfer. Spindle nuclear transfer involves the mother’s nucleus (containing maternal DNA) to be inputted into the donor’s egg that has had its nucleus removed. Afterwards, the father’s sperm fertilizes the donor egg and the egg is returned to the mother.
Pro-nuclear transfer, although similar to spindle nuclear transfer, is more controversial, as it entails throwing away and destroying a fertilized egg/potential human. In this process, both the mother and the donor’s eggs are fertilized by the father, but the mother’s nucleus gets moved into the healthy egg while the donor’s [fertilized] egg gets thrown away and destroyed. However, in the end, both of these methods allow the child to get genetic DNA from the parents while a small amount of DNA comes from the mitochondria of the second woman.
On April 9, 2016, a Greek woman gave birth to the first baby to be born using the spindle nuclear transfer method. The 32-year-old had a history of multiple IVF failures and poor egg quality, but The Institute of Life allowed this mother to bear a child, despite the difficulties. Although the researchers at The Institute of Life assured that both the mother and child are healthy, scientists are becoming concerned and controversies are beginning to stir.
Scientists began to express their worry for this procedure, as they claimed that this is not what mitochondrial donation was originally intended for. Additionally, it is still uncertain of the long-term effects mitochondrial donation could bring. NewScientist claims that animal experiments have suggested that a mismatch between mitochondrial DNA from the donor and DNA from the mother and father may cause accelerated aging and affect metabolism and obesity.
Tim Child at fertility clinic Oxford Fertility expresses his concern and opinion on this matter as he says, “The risks may be considered acceptable if being used to treat mitochondrial disease, but not in this situation, as the patient may have conceived with another round of IVF.”
I believe that the conduction of mitochondrial donation for infertility is unethical, as this is not the original purpose it was made for. Although the researchers at The Institute of Life claim they are making medical history, I see no reason for the use of this method to treat infertility. Although the existence of this method is crucial for the women with diseased mitochondria, using it to treat infertility is unreasonable, considering that there are so many other alternatives that guarantee safety of the mother and the child.
Our society is advancing in so many different fields so quickly, and many of these advances and discoveries are the ones that have made the most difference in everyone’s lives. It is commendable how far our society has come, all thanks to the ingenious minds and dedicated will of scientists and researchers. However, from time to time, we should slow down for a while and step back before rushing in impulsively.
Sabrina Mo, Grade 9
North Hollywood Highly Gifted Magnet High School