Scientists at Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU) have created human embryos using genes from one man and two women, a riveting development that could be used to prevent parents from passing incurable diseases on to their children, according to a study reported Wednesday in the science journal Nature.
“You can expect the first healthy child to be born [using this method] within three years,” Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a reproductive biologist who led the team at OHSU, was quoted by the journal as saying.
Mitalipov estimates there are 6,000 genetic diseases related to defects in a cell’s energy-producing component, mitochondria, which are inherited only from the mother.
Such diseases—which cause epilepsy, blindness, dementia and kidney failure, among other conditions—affect about one in 5,000 children.
By replacing the defective mitochondria with mitochondria from a donor, the mother can give birth to a healthy baby who is still biologically related to her.
“Since parents pass the genes through the sperm and eggs, the idea is to catch it at that stage and fix this mutation in sperm and egg … and the children that are born will be now completely healthy because the very basic cause of the disease has been fixed even before the child was conceived,” Milalipov said.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would have to approve the technique before it can be used in clinical research at the Washington-area National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Mitalipov has applied for FDA approval, but this process is often long. Almost certainly, he said, the research will first be used in human clinical trials in the United Kingdom, where similar research has already been opened for public review.
“It is exciting, because it’s one of the first times we’ve tried to tackle genetic diseases,” Mitalipov said. “I’ve worked with these parents and I see … how [these diseases] affect them, and so yes, it’s very exciting.”