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A baby boy born last April got DNA from 3 parents in a procedure that's illegal in the US

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This is great news and a huge deal. It's revolutionary.
Dusko Ilic, King's College London

A Jordanian couple wanted to have kids, but the mother carried the genes for Leigh syndrome, a deadly neurological illness that killed her first two children.

But thanks to an unusual technique that allowed her child to bear three people's DNA, she was able to give birth to a healthy baby boy in April, New Scientist revealed on Tuesday. 

Procedure illegal in the US

The mutation that leads to Leigh syndrome is based in the cell's mitochondria, as opposed to the nucleus where most DNA is stored.  

The couple turned to John Zhang, medical director of the New Hope Fertility Clinic in New York City, for expert help.

The family had to reject one option, since it would involve destroying embryos, which their Muslim beliefs forbade. So Zhang had to perform a procedure that's illegal in the United States, called spindle nuclear transfer.

To save lives is the ethical thing to do.
John Zhang, New Hope Fertility Clinic

How spindle nuclear transfer works

In spindle nuclear transfer, DNA is taken from the nucleus of the birth mother's egg and combined with the mitochondria of a donor's egg, and then fertilized with sperm from the father.

This procedure made five embryos. Only one developed normally, and the baby was born in April.

If this worked, why is it illegal?

Doctors experimented with the technique in the 1990s, but the babies developed genetic disorders and spindle nuclear transfer was banned by the FDA.

While the U.S. National Academy of Sciences approves of the procedure, Congress has blocked the FDA from allowing it, Science magazine reports

And in this case, risks still exist. Less than 1 percent of the baby's cells carry the Leigh syndrome mutation, which scientists hope is not enough to trigger any symptoms. 

Just because this was done in Mexico doesn't mean it was not done ethically.
Jacques Cohen, who advised Zhang

Other scientists have questions about the procedure, saying the lack of oversight makes it hard to determine whether or not it actually worked. 

Proponents of the procedure say the lack of oversight is a result of Congress making the procedure illegal in the United States -- forcing hopeful parents to go to jurisdictions beyond FDA control.

Should procedures like this be allowed in the US?

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