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Assisted Reproduction Technology
Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer
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For a timeline of ART technology that includes Cytoplasmic Transfer,
What problems do couples have that this technology can fix, and how does it aid in reproduction?
Cytoplasmic Transfer was developed to help women with infertility due to damaged mitochondria in embryos (deficient mitochondria can lead to the fragmentation or general poor development of embryos). The occurrence of deficient mitochondria increases with age, usually when women reach around 35 years old. Cytoplasmic Transfer works by injecting cytoplasm from a donor egg (preferably from a younger woman) into the damaged recipient egg. The resulting healthy egg is fertilised and then implanted into the womb (usually that of the recipient egg). Cytoplasmic Transfer is good for couples or women who prefer to be the biological parent of the resulting child, as the donor cytoplasm does not interfere with the overall DNA of the recipient egg.
Video of mouse eggs being fertilised In Vitro. For the procedure of Cytoplasmic Transfer, the egg is injected with donor cytoplasm before being fertilised and placed back into the womb.
How long has Cytoplasmic Transfer been available? Are all couples eligible to use the technology?
In 1996, Cytoplasmic Transfer was developed by Jacques Cohen, and the first baby conceived through Cytoplasmic Transfer was born in 1997, New Jersey, USA. The candidates for Cytoplasmic Transfer are infertile couples (including lesbian couples) or infertile single women. Cytoplasmic Transfer was effectively banned from the USA by the Food and Drug Association until lengthy studies of the procedure and its effects could be undergone. This banning of the procedure in America has greatly contributed to 'Reproductive Tourism' - infertile couples or individuals travel in order to obtain fertility treatment banned in their own country or state. In fact, a law from the Howard government in 2002 which would ban the technology in Australia was proposed as well. For the full article in the Sydney Morning Herald,
Is this technology ethical?
Cytoplasmic Transfer does not come without risks and raises many ethical issues. With every Cytoplasmic Transfer, it is possible that there would be a small amount of the donor’s Mitochondrial DNA present. This means that some children born through Cytoplasmic Transfer test positive for having the DNA of three parents instead of two. This creation of genetic hybrids is possibly the first example of human germ-line genetic modification (manipulation of genes that can affect future generations).
This possible mitochondrial DNA transfer brings the risk of the embryo being exposed to diseases connected with mitochondrial DNA, such as diabetes, Lou Gehrig’s disease and general developmental disorders.
Also, because this procedure hasn’t been around for long, there is no data on the effects of Cytoplasmic Transfer on maturing childrens’ health. The cytoplasm containing the mitochondria that is injected into the recipient egg could have an unknown reaction to the egg’s DNA. It is not known for certain whether the injection of the cytoplasm does not alter the egg’s primary function, and the creator of Cytoplasmic Transfers Jacques Cohen himself has helped publish a paper which claims that if this happens there would be probable deficiencies.
It is also not known for certain if the early embryo goes unaffected by the foreign material injected into it and grows without deficiency. As Shannon Brownlee of The Washington Post wrote, disorders in Cytoplasmic Transfer children could be because of the DNA ‘mishmash’. If the embryo is indeed affected, then the Mitochondrial DNA can be passed down from a mother to child (it is only transmitted through eggs), hence the theory of the first germ-line genetic modification.
To finally answer this question, I would like to quote Jim Cummins, a molecular biologist from Murdoch University in Western Australia, who said, “To deliberately create individuals with multiple mitochondrial genotypes without knowing the consequences is really a step into the dark.”
From what I understand of Cytoplasmic Transfer (and this is only my personal opinion), the procedure is not yet completely ethical, as there seems to be quite a lot of room for error. I do not believe it is ethical to be uncertain of all the effects when they could influence an individual’s life. However, I also think that if all defects in the technology can be overcome in the future and we can be more certain of its outcome it would be ethical to use.
For Shannon Brownlee's full article, 'Designer Babies',
An example of Cytoplasmic Transfer being successfully used:
One example of the procedure’s success with older mothers is the story of Sharon and Paul Saarinen, of the township of West Bloomfield in Michigan, US. By the year 2000, the Saarinens had had 10 years of failing to have a baby, including 4 unsuccessful IVF attempts.Sharon was told she was premenopausal, and that her eggs were not vital enough to be able to produce a healthy embryo. But Sharon knew she would have a child, telling CNN “I knew there had to be another option; I wouldn’t accept no”.The Saarinens found Dr. Michael Fakih, a fertility expert, who was willing to perform the controversial treatment Cytoplasmic Transfer. Once the procedure was done and the now fertilised egg implanted in Sharon’s womb, she fell pregnant and had daughter Alana nine months later.
For the complete story and what happened next,
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