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Thus a baby was born with three biological parents

A new treatment for a rare type of infertility raises moral dilemmas

A group of test-tube babies born using a new treatment for a rare type of infertility have genes from three biological parents. This is reported by a group of researchers from the USA and Israel. The researchers say that the genes the babies received belong to a type that hardly differs from person to person, and apparently, they did not affect the characteristics of the toddlers.

Dr. Jacob Lebron, a fertility specialist at the Sheba Medical Center and the developers of the method, says that the birth of the babies was not accompanied by unusual complications and the babies look healthy and completely normal. Dr. Lebron says that the method is used today to treat a rare type of infertility, which exists in a small percentage of women treated in fertility clinics. These women produce eggs that can be fertilized, but the embryos obtained from them disintegrate and die in a short time, even before they are implanted in the uterus.

The researchers, Dr. Jacques Cohen from Saint Barnabas Medical Center in New Jersey and Dr. LeBron, believed that the source of the problem may be in the cytoplasm - the substance that surrounds the nucleus of the egg and guides its development after fertilization. In a series of experiments that began several years ago, the researchers injected cytoplasm from the eggs of donor women into the eggs of the treated women.

Dr. LeBron says he and his colleagues treated 15 women at Assuta Private Medical Center and five babies were born. The last treatment was performed about a year ago, and the woman is expected to give birth soon. The group of women treated at the American Medical Center gave birth to 15 babies. Dr. LeBron estimates that around 30 babies were born worldwide with the help of the method.

However, the cytoplasm of the egg does not only contain proteins that guide the development of the embryo. It also contains mitochondria - small structures that use oxygen and nutrients to create energy for the cells. Mitochondria have their own DNA.

This fact raises a question: since the researchers injected cytoplasm containing mitochondria into the eggs of infertile women and then fertilized the egg and created a successful pregnancy, the question arises as to whether the baby will have genes from three people: the infertile woman, the man whose sperm fertilized the egg, and the woman from whose eggs the extra cytoplasm was taken ?

The answer, Dr. Cohen and his colleagues report, is positive. In the March issue of the medical journal "Human Reproduction", the researchers describe the genetic identification method they used. They tested a one-year-old baby born using the method, to locate mitochondrial genes from the donor cytoplasm in her blood cells.

Dr. Cohen and his colleagues located a region of DNA in the mitochondria that usually differs from person to person, but they wrote that in this region the genes are not active. In other words, their conclusion is that there are differences, "but they are not significant".

However, following the treatment, permanent genetic changes may occur, which in turn, will be passed on to the babies' offspring. This option raises an ethical and legal dilemma. Dr. LeBron says that he and his colleagues received approval to perform the treatment from Assuta's Helsinki Committee and the Higher Helsinki Committee - the body that oversees experiments involving genetic intervention. However, these approvals were given before a law came into force in 1998 prohibiting cloning and genetic intervention in human reproductive cells.

Gali Ben Or, from the consulting and legislation department at the Ministry of Justice, who accompanied the process of drafting the law on behalf of the ministry, says that the treatment does not necessarily go against the limitations of the law. "But it certainly raises a question," she adds. "Even if they (the doctors, TT) received approval from the Helsinki Committee before, this is something that deserves a re-examination to see how it works out if the new limitations set by law."

According to Ben Or, "When we enacted the law, we referred to areas of genetic manipulation that are in the area of ​​treating genetic problems, such as, for example, trying to produce an embryo that will not be a carrier of cystic fibrosis by changing its genetic structure." In the current case, says Ben Or, the tiny genetic change that was created was a by-product of the treatment and there was no initial intention to create babies with a different genetic structure.

In an editorial published in the scientific journal "Science" Eric Firens and Eric Johnst from the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Case Western Reserve University address the issue. They claim that the experiment may not meet the requirements of the federal commission that oversees experiments involving genetic intervention. However, they point out that according to American law, since the experiment was done with private funding and without the use of government research grants, the researchers were also not obliged to request such permission.

"We are amazed by the medical results. The news should make everyone happy for the birth of new children," they wrote. But, they added, "they should concern those who are committed to a public debate on the possibilities of using technologies for 'genetic programming' to shape the children of the future." In their opinion, even if the genetic modification was done unintentionally, but as a by-product, the researchers have crossed a line, and there should be a public debate on the matter before continuing with experiments of this type.

Previous update: 04/05/2001 23:11
^^For the first time - babies were born that were executed in code^^
^^Their genetic change^^

The scientists added a gene that would neutralize the mother's infertility and in fact these 30 children have one father and two mothers.

Scientists in the USA confirmed that for the first time babies were born whose genetic code was artificially changed. They stated that the babies were born healthy. In a report by the BBC network Today (Friday) it was said that about 30 such babies have been born so far, 15 of them as part of an experimental program conducted by a laboratory in the USA.

An examination of genetic samples taken from two one-year-old babies confirmed that they contained a small amount of genes that were not inherited from their parents. The additional genes were taken from a cell of a healthy donor, to overcome problems of infertility in the mother.

Many scientists criticized the methods used by the researchers to change the genetic structure of the offspring, calling them "immoral". These methods are illegal in many countries of the world.

The added genes have changed the set of genes that the babies will pass on to their offspring. This change is perceived by most scientists today as unethical, mainly because of the limited knowledge that exists today about the consequences of the process.

^^Two mothers and one father^^

The babies were born following a process known as "egg plasma transfer". The process includes taking some of the contents of the donor cell, and injecting it into the mother's egg cell. The scientists at the "St. Barnabas Institute of Fertility Medicine and Science" in New Jersey, believe that fertility problems in women may stem from defects in the mitochondria - parts of the cell that float outside the nucleus, where most of the genes in the cell are found.

These parts contain DNA that is inherited through the mother. The researchers replaced the mother's mitochondria with that of a donor woman. As a result, the babies' cells contained genes from two mothers and one father.

Scientists in the United Kingdom expressed their concern that the American research opens the door to experiments whose consequences are problematic, and that even though it is not a significant change in the genetic load - the principle of avoiding engaging in it is violated. The US does not fund experiments and research that involve changing the genetic make-up of humans, but there is no legislation prohibiting experiments of this type.

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