This is great news and a huge deal. It's revolutionary.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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