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Baby creators 'sailing close to wind'

Press Association logoPress Association 2/04/2017 John von Radowitz

Doctors who created the world's first "three-parent" baby in Mexico were "sailing very close to the wind" and lucky to succeed, a leading British expert says.

News of the birth of Abrahim Hassan, whose Jordanian mother was treated by a US team in Mexico, made headlines around the world last year.

He was conceived from an egg containing DNA from his mother and father, and tiny amount of "mitochondrial" DNA from a third person - a female donor.

The aim was to prevent Abrahim inheriting defective mitochondria, rod-like batteries in cells, that could give him Leigh syndrome - a fatal nervous system disorder. The treatment was led by Dr John Zhang, from New Hope Fertility Centre in New York City.

Top stem cell biologist Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, from the Francis Crick Institute in London, made his comments after details of the case appeared in the journal Reproductive BioMedicine Online.

He said: "It is of, course, good news that the woman being treated was able to have an apparently healthy child with no signs of mitochondrial disease, but from the paper it seems that in many respects Zhang and colleagues were sailing very close to the wind and that luck played a large part in the outcome."

Prof Lovell-Badge criticised the American team for using "electrofusion" methods to transfer nuclear DNA that had been abandoned by other researchers because "they gave a high frequency of abnormal embryos".

Part of the treatment process involved transferring nuclear DNA from the future baby's mother's egg to a de-nucleated donor egg.

This produced a donor egg housing nuclear DNA from Abrahim's mother and the donor's "healthy" mitochondrial DNA outside the nucleus. It was then fertilised by the father's sperm and helped to develop into an embryo.

DNA in mitochondria play an important role in metabolism but do not affect appearance or personality.

Prof Lovell-Badge said his comments left aside "all the issues of consent and legality".

Final stages of the treatment, including implantation of the embryo into the womb, were carried out in Mexico to avoid breaching US federal law.

Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy (MRT) is officially sanctioned in the UK and a clinic in Newcastle has been given the go-ahead to select the first British patient for treatment, probably before the end of the year.

Critics have accused politicians and regulators in the UK of rushing to embrace a technology that is not proven to be safe and could pave the way to "designer" babies.

Supporters say it offers new hope to thousands of families cursed by devastating inherited diseases.

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