The child’s mother carries Leigh syndrome, a fatal disease caused by faulty mitochondria. Mitochondria generate most of a cell’s energy and perform other functions that keep cells healthy. Each mitochondria has a circle of DNA containing 37 genes needed for mitochondrial function. A mutation in one of those genes causes Leigh syndrome. The woman herself is healthy, but previously had two children who both died of Leigh syndrome.
John Zhang, a fertility doctor at New Hope Fertility Center in New York City, and colleagues transferred a structure called the spindle with chromosomes attached to it from one of the woman’s eggs into a healthy, empty donor egg. The resulting egg was then fertilized with sperm from the woman’s husband. The procedure was done in Mexico.
The technique, called spindle nuclear transfer, is one of two ways of creating “three-parent babies” to prevent mitochondrial diseases from being passed on. Such three-parent babies inherit most of their DNA from the mother and father, but a small amount from the donor. Other three-parent children who carried mitochondria from their mothers and from a donor were born in the 1990s, but the baby boy is the first to be born using a nuclear transfer technique. Zhang and colleagues will report the successful birth October 19 in Salt Lake City at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Scientific Congress.