Causes & Treatment

Interested in the three parent baby technique? This is the only donor bank using AI to enhance results

Jessie Day, in partnership with Ovogene  |   24 Aug 2023


Sounds complex, and it is. Mitochondrial donation treatment (MDT) – called out as the ‘three parent baby’ technique – is an approach sometimes used during the IVF process, to replace faulty mitochondrial DNA with healthy DNA from a donor egg.

Earlier this month, headlines reported the birth of the first UK baby created using mitochondrial donation. And since then, requests have shot up, for more information on this groundbreaking technique.

Leading the way in education in this area – and the world’s very first donor egg bank to use AI to enhance success rates – is Ovogene. And while the birth of the UK’s first three parent baby is momentous, we’ve witnessed their incredible work in this area for a number of years now.

As Director of Clinical Operations Dr. Uliana Dorofeyeva puts it,

“It’s far more involved than a ‘swap’, of course, and raises a whole bank of questions from patients, donors, donor-conceived children, practitioners and society in general. 

Patients may have heard of the ‘three parent baby’ technique – the headline-grabbing name for mitochondrial donation. But this is all about DNA health and quality, and putting fertility treatment right at the edge of developing science.”

If you have any questions about mitochondrial donation, Ovogene recommends contacting a proven partner IFG with whom you can confidently begin your journey to mitochondrial donation.

Touch base with IFG for world-leading education, to inform your journey to conception.

What is mitochondrial donation?

Mitochondrial donation – also referred to as mitochondrial replacement therapy or mitochondrial transfer – is a technique used during the IVF process to replace faulty DNA with healthy DNA, from a donor egg. 

The practice helps decrease the chance of passing a severe mitochondrial disease onto future children. 

What is mitochondrial disease?

Mitochondrial diseases are often inherited disorders – almost always long-term and severe in how they present in the body. They occur when our mitochondria – the energy powerhouse of our body – don’t produce enough energy for normal functioning. 

Alongside the disease itself, many mitochondrial diseases trigger secondary dysfunctions and complications, including Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and cancer. 

If faulty mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed on from the mother during conception, there’s an increased risk that the developing baby will inherit specific dysfunctions, which can cause cell damage, poor quality of life and – in severe cases – organ or system failure, and death at an early age. 

Mitochondrial donation is a cutting-edge area of reproductive medicine, focused on preventing mitochondrial disease by removing faulty DNA and replacing it with healthy biomaterial, from a donated egg. 

Mind-blowing, we agree. Here’s how it works.

How-does-mitochondrial-donation-work-Ovogene

Mitochondrial replacement therapy, IVF, and how it all works

If mitochondrial replacement therapy is part of your treatment plan, it’s usually due to concerns about hereditary disease, and the risk of passing this onto a future baby. In these cases, therapy would be offered as part of your IVF cycle, using a donor egg (which will have undergone a rigorous screening process, Ovogene recommends contacting IFG for more info on this).

Put simply, Ovogene explain it as ‘a healthy egg, with unhealthy mitochondria removed, and fertilised with mitochondrial genes from the donated egg’. 

So, your own egg, with faulty DNA removed and replaced. 

Teams can use one of two techniques, in mitochondrial replacement therapy – pronuclear transfer (PNT) or maternal spindle transfer (MST). Let’s unpack how these work, and the differences.

Pronuclear transfer (PNT)

In pronuclear transfer, your eggs and a donor’s eggs are fertilised with sperm (your partner’s or a donor’s) in an embryology lab, creating two sets of embryos. The lab will then begin the process of replacing faulty DNA, using healthy DNA from the donor-created embryo. 

Maternal spindle transfer (MST)

With maternal spindle transfer, fertilisation takes place after the genetic material (DNA) has been replaced. The lab will remove DNA from your eggs, transfer it into the donated eggs (which have had their DNA removed), and then fertilise these with sperm, creating embryos. 

Success rates are about the same for both techniques, according to the HFEA, and both involve the creation of children who would be biologically related to you.

Mitochondrial-donation-Ovogene

I’ve read about the ‘three parent baby’ technique – is this the same thing?

In simple terms, yes. This is what the headlines are getting at. But science and treatment have moved on significantly, since the ‘three person’ fertility technique was first approved for use in the UK, in 2015. 

But the ‘three parent baby’ concept is intentionally sensationalist, and, for many experts, misleading. In biological terms, just 0.1 per cent of the entire genome will be genetically related to the donor. 

This is not to say, however, that mitochondrial transfer comes without valid concerns, or risks, including: 

Ethical, social & legal issues

At its core, mitochondrial transfer focuses on altering human DNA. This in itself makes up a major part of the ethical debate surrounding its use in reproductive medicine, and IVF. Ovogene provide lots of information on this aspect and other considerations on their site, including long term consequences for future generations, parental rights, accessibility and more. 

Risks & benefits of mitochondrial donation

Alongside these wider issues, patients need to work through the immediate risks and benefits associated with mitochondrial donation IVF treatment. Your team should be prepped to cover: 

  • success rates – there are no complete guarantees that mitochondrial donation will prevent your baby, or a future generation, from inheriting a disorder 
  • chance of mismatch – depending on the origins of the donor and mother, mismatches may occur, affecting compatibility and outcomes
  • efficacy – in general, mitochondrial donation is one of the most effective methods of preventing and – in successful cases – eliminating hereditary disease

Connect with Ovogene today for world-leading support, uniquely driven by AI.

Interested in mitochondrial donation, and the three parent baby technique? Touch base with IFG for world-leading education, to begin your journey to mitochondrial donation.

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