Genetically-Modified Babies on the Rise

By Dennis Pearson, Staff Writer

TEANECK) – A Jordanian couple traveled to Mexico with Dr. John Zhang of the New Hope Fertility Center in New York City to escape restrictions on mitochondrial donation, also known as Oocyte Modification. It is a reproductive process that helps eliminate mitochondrial genes that are mutated.

Mitochondrial genes are passed down genetically from our mother and is the organelle that creates energy for cells. If the genes are mutated, diseases like Leigh’s disease and Barth syndrome can develop in a potential child which affects body development.

Mitochondrial donation techniques include Pronuclear, Cytoplasmic and Spindle Nuclear Transfer.

Each technique has its own way of extracting mutated mitochondria from a potential mother’s egg and implanting healthy mitochondrial genes from a female donors egg. Once the mitochondria is switched, the egg is fertilized with the potential father’s sperm, and implanted into the mother’s womb where pregnancy can occur.

The Jordanian couple’s baby boy was born April 6 of this year.They used Spindle Nuclear Transfer in the reproductive process because it didn’t destroy embryos like other techniques which was very important to their religious beliefs. Their child carries the genes of the sperm and eggs nuclei which decides his traits, while his mitochondrial genes are from a female donor. Technically, their child has three parents.

Oocyte modification is an extension of in vitro fertilization which involves artificial insemination.

Reproductive medicine pioneers Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards were the first people to successfully carry out a birth using in-vitro fertilization. Her name was Louise Brown, she was born on July 25, 1978.

In 1996, Jacques Cohen and his team at the Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, NJ discovered cytoplasmic transfer one of the earliest techniques of Oocyte modification. A year later, Emma Ott became the first person conceived using this technique.

Over the years, there have been between 30-50 people conceived using cytoplasmic transfer alone. Countries like Mexico, India, Italy, Ukraine and Taiwan allow these techniques to be used in Medical Centers.

In February of last year, the House of Lords and Parliament legalized Oocyte modification in the UK.

February of this year, the United States legalized research on OM techniques but have not legalized the practice.

OM has been surrounded by controversy and has been called “playing god”. Many bioethicists are fearful that OM could lead to genetic engineering of physical, intellectual and personality traits which could lead to a eugenics based agenda.