Fertility Blog

Mitochondrial Disease in the News

This summer we have been watching the debate in the UK about allowing individuals to undergo IVF and then have scientists replace dysfunctional mitochondria in their eggs. The issue is particularly controversial because mitochondria, the batteries in cells, actually contain DNA, and allowing a mitochondrial transfer would result in an individual with DNA from 3 people (Mom, Dad and the mitochondrial donor).

Ovascience Inc. is currently developing a method for re-energizing the eggs from infertile/older women using mitochondria recovered from other cells in the woman’s own ovary.

In the UK, where IVF procedures and research are heavily regulated by the government, mitochondrial replacement in oocytes has been approved for women who risk passing mitochondrial disease to their children. Since mitochondria come only from the mother, mutations in the mitochondrial DNA are transmitted 100% of the time, with no possibility of repair. The number of women taking advantage of the procedure is likely to be extremely low, but allowing the procedure adds to our ability to deal with problems that occur in oocytes. Currently, Comprehensive Chromosome Screening (CCS) is being widely used by women wanting to ensure that only chromosomally normal embryos get transferred to their uterus during IVF treatment. Mitochondrial transfer will never be used so widely, but it will be very important for the few women that need it.

- Joe Conaghan, PhD

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