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Could three-parent embryos eliminate mitochondrial disease for future generations?

Our Dallas fertility center physicians and staff know that our patients are always interested in the latest news in genetics. Recently three-parent embryos have been in the spotlight, and we would like to offer an explanation of this process.

What are three-parent embryos?


Three-parent embryos are referred to by many names and terms, which can be confusing. You may hear three-parent embryos referred to as mitochondrial replacement or manipulation; oocyte modification; three-parent babies; or a nuclear genome transfer.

Three-parent embryos require IVF, or in vitro fertilization, and the use of a donor egg. The process involves removing the nuclear DNA from the donor egg and replacing it with the nuclear DNA from the mother’s egg. When the donor egg’s nuclear DNA is removed, the donor’s healthy mitochondria is left in the egg in order to eliminate the mother’s mitochondrial DNA, which could transmit the genes for mitochondrial diseases to the mother’s child.

Why are researchers pursuing this technique?

Three-parent embryos allow a mother with genes for mitochondrial diseases to have a child that is genetically related to her, but at the same time is free of the mitochondrial DNA that would cause the child to become ill with a mitochondrial disease. In addition, since one of the ways that these diseases are passed on is through the mutant mitochondria of the mother, three-parent embryos have the potential to eliminate the mitochondrial disease that the mother carries for all her future generations.

Is this technique available in the United States?

Recently, three-parent embryos were approved in the United Kingdom, but it has not received FDA approval in the United States. The FDA convened a committee hearing in February 2016 to address the scientific merits of three-parent embryos, and the committee decided that there is scientific evidence that research and treatment in the future should move forward cautiously.

Our Dallas fertility center physicians are always investigating the latest genetic techniques to help patients start or add to their families. If and when three-parent embryos are approved by the FDA, you can be sure we will research the technique. Contact us if you are looking for state-of-the-art fertility treatment.