Nature mixed signals on 3-person IVF: deep risks, but forge ahead

3-parent babyNature recently published a very thorough, insightful piece on the major risks that would come with the use of so-called 3-person IVF (aka mitochondrial transfer or 3-parent baby method).

In the UK 3-person IVF has, as of earlier this year, the government’s blessing to proceed despite the many serious unresolved risks that Nature‘s own piece so nicely outlines. Some scientists including myself have spoken out publicly about these risks, which include potentially disastrous developmental problems for the children produced via this method. However, others including a panel formed by HFEA, think the risks are small. The Nature piece on risk quoted the HFEA panel this way, “most respondents presenting evidence to the panel viewed these issues as “at best minor or non-existent”. Still, this particular Nature piece is quite convincing on there really being major, unresolved risks. It also highlights how much the field doesn’t know about mitochondria.

On the same day as this Nature piece on the risks, the journal also oddly enough published a cheery editorial that didn’t even mention risk and instead slapped HFEA and the UK on the back for forging ahead with this human experimentation. The editorial concluded:

“The United Kingdom has made an advisable step forward that serves as a useful invitation for all to follow.”

So what are we to think, Nature? Are there many serious risks to 3-person IVF? Or not so much?

2 thoughts on “Nature mixed signals on 3-person IVF: deep risks, but forge ahead

  1. Every piece in Nature is generally interesting, but inconsistent as a journal.

    I think the development of mitochondrial donation (MD) lacks sufficient preclinical considerations. Do you know MD using mitochondrila disease model animals?
    There are few. I know only this one on pronuclear transfer (PNT).

    Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Nov 15; 102(46): 16765–16770.
    Gene therapy for progeny of mito-mice carrying pathogenic mtDNA by nuclear transplantation.

    This model mouse is based on a large-scale mt DNA deletion, not reflecting human conditions.
    We should take evolutionary implications of maternal transmission of mtDNA seriously.

    MD also has ethical issues. It needs specific oocyte donation in both MII spindle tranfer and PNT due to haplotype matching. Moreover, PNT entails the creation and destruction of embryos in which oocytes of third party are used.

    See T, Ishii. Potential impact of human mitochondrial replacement on global policy regarding germline gene modification.

  2. Hi Paul,
    I can only look at this whole thing from 30,000 feet. As far as I’m concerned this is an expensive way of solving a non-problem. Those who know that they carry problematic genes do not need to breed. And those progeny who have problematic mtDNA through some unforeseeable circumstance (the bigger problem?) are not in any way helped by this 3-parent guff.

    Of course, my point of view is politically incorrect — and that is why you’ll never see it in Nature (the journal) but why it is fundamental to Nature (the real world/universe)….

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