The world reacted with horror when the news of the ‘3 parent baby’ was approved in UK Parliament last week making the UK the very first country to authorise this.
It is understandable that there would be such a reaction. People distrust science when it comes to reproduction. It was the same reaction with In vitro fertilization (IVF) yet today so many families have benefited from it. The success of IVF now means that many couples who otherwise would be childless can now enjoy the bliss of having their own babies.
Now science has moved on to ‘3 parent baby.’
However I want to explain the so called ‘3 parent baby’ in a way non-medical people can understand. This is not science playing God at all.
But first some terminologies:
Mitochondrial diseases: The mitochondrion is the”power house” of the cell. It produces the energy required by our cells to function effectively. It also helps the body detoxify waste products amongst many other functions.
It is because the Mitochondria are such an important part of our cells that when they malfunction, it causes a whole range of diseases known as Mitochondrial Disorders.
Some disorders related to malfunction of the Mitochondria include Blindness, Autism, Diabetes, Myopathy (muscle problems), Bipolar disorder, Dementia, Epilepsy, Stroke, Parkinson’s disease and many others.
Many of these diseases are passed on from mother to her child because the child gets its mitochondria from the mother. So if the mum passes on defective mitochondria, the child will then be affected by these mitochondrial diseases.
So how does the 3 parent baby work??
Mitochondrial donation means that those with defective Mitochondria can get a good one from donors.
The baby still has the entire DNA from its own father.
It still has the entire DNA from its own mother.
However the defective Mitochondria from the biological mum are replaced with functioning Mitochondria from a donor. This donor Mitochondria make up only about 0.1% of the total DNA in the baby.
I have simplified the process to help readers understand. Details about the procedure can be read in medical articles such as here.
So, do these donated mitochondria mean that the child has 3 parents??
If you got a kidney from a donor, does that make the donor one of your parents??
So we can see that the term ‘3 parent baby’ does not really mean what it says and is simply creating fear and mistrust in the public.
However this is a new technology and long term studies will be needed to ensure that it is safe just like studies are needed and are ongoing concerning IVF babies and many other scientific breakthroughs. We just do not know for now how safe Mitochondrial donation is even though the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has suggested that the technique is “not unsafe.”
You can read why one scientist opposes mitochondrial donation here.
But for now it looks like a major breakthrough which hopefully might alleviate and even eliminate mitochondrial diseases and the suffering and anguish of families affected by them.
Dr Adaeze Ifezulike is a Family Physician/GP based in Aberdeen. She is a Finalist at the UK Sexual Health Awards 2015 and for her book ‘Understanding Contraception: A guide for black ladies’ she has been nominated ‘Author of the Year’ at the Women4Africa Awards.