After losing two children to a rare neurological disorder, a Jordanian couple has welcomed a baby boy who appears to be free of the condition.
The baby’s birth is being hailed as a medical breakthrough, since he’s the first child ever born using the DNA of three different parents.
As Fox News reports, the baby was born approximately five months ago. The anonymous mother carries the genes for Leigh Syndrome, a fatal nerve disorder that resulted in the deaths of the couple’s first two children.
Using a controversial technique not approved in the U.S., doctors removed a portion of the mother’s DNA from an egg and combined it with a healthy donor egg (leaving behind the disease-carrying genes). The healthy egg was then fertilized. The child’s three genetic parents therefore include the mother, father, and the egg donor.
According to the New Scientist, the procedure was carried out by Dr. John Zhang, of New York’s New Hope Fertility Center. Though legal in the U.K., the technique is not permitted in the United States, so Dr. Zhang and his team carried it out in Mexico, where he says, “there are no rules.”
— New Scientist (@newscientist) September 28, 2016
The procedure was made necessary by the parents’ Muslim faith, which prevented them from pursuing a different technique requiring the destruction of multiple embryos. Instead, Dr. Zhang used the three-parent-DNA method to create five embryos, only one of which developed normally and which was implanted in the mother.
The baby boy was delivered nine months later.
Early tests indicate that the baby carries the disease-causing mutation in only 1% of his mitochondria—far lower than the 18% that doctors believe would cause the disorder to appear. However, experts say that the child should be monitored to ensure that those levels remain low—especially if other couples are looking to use the same technique to avoid passing on genetic disorders.
Dr. Zhang insists that he was right to act as he did, telling the New Scientist:
“To save lives is the ethical thing to do.”
Some have called the news, “revolutionary,” and say it gives hope to couples with genetic mutations who also hope to have children. Dr. Dusko Ilic of Kings College London told the New Scientist:
“This is great news and a huge deal.”
Others, however, have questioned both the ethics and the wisdom of the procedure. As CNN reports, Professor Hank Greely of Stanford University noted that similar efforts were abandoned in the 1990s after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—prompted by concerns over cloning—determined that approval was needed.
Professor Lori P. Knowles at the University of Alberta School of Public Health told CNN:
“It’s unfortunate to have people decide they’re just going to quite willingly engage in this kind of reproductive tourism — to go outside of a system that is in place to create the safest, most scientifically reproducible way forward. That’s the precedent then, that if you think you can do it, then let’s just hop the border and see what happens, hope for the best.”
The team will discuss its findings at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Scientific Congress in Salt Lake City in October.