For many years parents have been suffering the heartbreak of having their child diagnosed with a mitochondria disease and watching them suffer. The disease is a result of mutated DNA located inside an egg which eventually becomes fertilized by sperm and becomes an embryo. Children that suffer mitochondria diseases can have a range of health problems that leave them sick, permanently disabled or even result in an early death.
Science is on the verge of being able to correct this problem using genetic research that allows a child to have two mothers and one father. A scientific research lab in England was able to remove the mitochondria DNA from one egg and replace it with DNA that was healthier. The researchers tried this with 10 different embryos that were left over from in vitro fertilization, and it was successful each time.
The reason two women are involved in the procedure is a result of the child only receiving mitochondria DNA from the mother. This particular type of DNA is found within the egg, thus genetic diseases associated with mitochondria DNA are a result of certain genes of the mother’s being past down.
While this type of transplant does allow for genes from both women to be present in the child, the genes provided by the transplant will not be seen. There are only 37 genes in mitochondria DNA, while the rest of the embryo contains 23,000 genes. The latter number of genes is responsible for the way a person looks and how they act, while the 37 genes have no bearing on that.
The 37 genes in the mitochondria DNA do serve a purpose however. They help to power and run each of the cells within a human’s body. Without them a human could not live, and this is why abnormalities in these genes cause diseases and disabilities to occur in infants and children. Cells failing to work within the body eventually lead to various organs failing within the body, such as the kidneys, liver, heart and more. This failure eventually leads to death.
The benefit of transplanting mitochondria DNA into an egg that will later become an actual human being is the fact that it essentially stops any hereditary diseases associated with the mitochondria from being passed on to future generations. When a woman with transplanted mitochondria chooses to have a child of her own, she will pass along the healthy DNA she was given rather than what her original birth mother would have passed on to her without the transplant. This cycle can continue on and scientists believe it may have the power to eventually rid the world of some diseases in the future.
Although the procedure is still in its infancy, scientists believe they could have it ready for actual use by couples undergoing in vitro fertilization within the next five years. Doing so would ensure that parents have babies born without birth defects or diseases that are a result of poor mitochondria DNA. Some of these include muscular dystrophy, mental retardation, diabetes, hearing loss and more. Substitution as performed by the researchers in England is the only method proven to work that allows women with mutated mitochondria DNA to bear children that do not have genetic diseases.
Critics of the embryo procedure argue that ‘designer babies’ will be created if the procedure is made available to expecting parents. Strong religious advocates believe that an embryo should not be altered since God made it the way it is. They see the potential for human life that exists with the embryo even though the transplant occurs before conception with sperm happens, and many are opposed to this since it shares similar qualities of cloning. There is also concern that the new procedure will affect the family unit since this procedure makes it possible for two women to contribute to the genetics of a child.
While this is the first type of genetic research that has occurred with transplanting mitochondria DNA using human eggs, the procedure has been completed on mice and has proven successful. It is now up to science to continue researching and developing the process to make it safe for parents that may need the transplant of mitochondria DNA in the future in order to produce a healthy and vibrant child whose life won’t be cut short by a genetic defect.
Also important is the public’s opinion of the research and the procedure, since this could dictate whether or not it actually ever becomes available to be used by medical professionals. With the addition of future research along with this public opinion, only time will tell if two moms are better than one!