Born to Jordanian parents, Abrahim is the world’s first baby conceived using this revolutionary procedure.
A baby boy has been born in London – what’s the big news here? This baby has become the world’s first human being to be born using the revolutionary ‘three parent’ technique.
Five-month-old Abrahim Hassan is the first baby to be born using a new technique that incorporates DNA from three parents, New Scientist reported today.
“This is great news and a huge deal,” says Dusko Ilic at King’s College London, who wasn’t involved in the work. “It’s revolutionary.”
The child’s Jordanian parents opted for the procedure as the mother, Ibtisam Shaban, carries the genes for Leigh syndrome, a fatal disorder that affects the developing nervous system.
Genes for the disease reside in DNA in the mitochondria, which provide energy for our cells and carry just 37 genes that are passed down to us from our mothers. This is separate from the majority of our DNA, which is housed in each cell’s nucleus. Around a quarter of Shaban’s mitochondria have the disease-causing mutation. While she is healthy, Leigh syndrome was responsible for the deaths of her first two children – New Scientist.
Shaban and her husband, Mahmoud Hassan, sought out the help of John Zhang and his team at the New Hope Fertility Center in New York City.
Zhang has been working on a way to avoid mitochondrial disease using a so-called “three-parent” technique.
There are a few ways of doing this: The method approved in the UK is called pronuclear transfer and involves fertilising both the mother’s egg and a donor egg with the father’s sperm. Before the fertilised eggs start dividing into early-stage embryos, each nucleus is removed. The nucleus from the donor’s fertilised egg is discarded and replaced by that from the mother’s fertilised egg.
This technique wasn’t appropriate for Shaban and Hassan – as Muslims, they were opposed to the destruction of two embryos.
So Zhang took a different approach, called spindle nuclear transfer. He removed the nucleus from one of Shaban’s eggs and inserted it into a donor egg that had had its own nucleus removed, New Scientist explained.
The resulting egg – with nuclear DNA from Shaban and mitochondrial DNA from a donor – was then fertilised with Hassan’s sperm.
Zhang’s team used this approach to create five embryos, only one of which developed normally. This embryo was implanted in Shaban, and nine months later, the boy was born.
“It’s exciting news,” says Bert Smeets at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. The team will describe the findings at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Scientific Congress in Salt Lake City in October.
It’s noteworthy that neither methods are approved in the US, so Zhang carried out the procedure in Mexico instead, where ‘there are no rules.’
“To save lives is the ethical thing to do,” he says.
The team avoided destroying embryos, and used a male embryo, so that the resulting child wouldn’t pass on any inherited mitochondrial DNA.
However the technique comes with it’s share of concerns. Last time embryologists tried to create a baby using DNA from three people was in the 1990s, when they injected mitochondrial DNA from a donor into another woman’s egg, along with sperm from her partner. Some of the babies went on to develop genetic disorders, and the technique was banned.
In Abrahim’s case, Zhang and his colleagues found less than 1 per cent of his mitochondria carry the mutation. Hopefully, this is too low to cause any problems.
“We need to wait for more births, and to carefully judge them,” says Smeets.
Ibtisam Shaban and Mahmoud Hassan have been trying to start a family for almost 20 years. Ten years after they married, Shaban became pregnant, but it ended in the first of four miscarriages.
In 2005, the couple gave birth to a baby girl. It was then that they discovered the probable cause of their fertility problems: a genetic mutation in Shaban’s mitochondria. Their daughter was born with Leigh syndrome, which affects the brain, muscles and nerves of developing infants. Sadly, she died aged six. The couple’s second child had the same disorder, and lived for 8 months.
Abrahim was born on April 6, 2016. He is showing no signs of disease – New Scientist