cloning

Artificial eggs and sperm- are they on the horizon ?

Sperm-eggs-synthetic-artificialCould a cure for real cure for infertility be on the horizon? Today many causes for infertility can currently be successfully treated such fertility issues caused by damage to fallopian tubes, ovulation disorders, endometriosis and low sperm counts or motility. These treatments currently available to us include fertility drugs, insemination, surgery and IVF. However, there are still issues in assisting women have very few or no eggs left or men who produce no sperm at all. This is a particular problem for women since women produce all they eggs they will in a lifetime while still in their mother's womb, and by their mid 40s have hardly any normal eggs left. These couples can be successfully treated only with the use of donor eggs or sperm. While these donor procedures are often quite effective, the children who result from these pregnancies do not carry the DNA of one or both of the parents. This is a problem since most couples who seek out the help of a Reproductive Medicine specialist want their own genetic children. With our current state of reproductive science this may not be possible.

One potential way around this would be using stem cells in the lab using cloning technologies.  A group of scientists at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel and Cambridge in the UK have brought us a little closer to this cure, figuring out how to more efficiently get these stem cells to grow into cells that will eventually develop into eggs and sperm. Their findings were recently published in the journal Nature.

The researchers have yet to take the next step; producing eggs and sperm from these stem cells. While it may become technically feasible, besides the technical issues, there are ethical concerns, perhaps even greater than when IVF when first introduced to overcome before this proceeds. IVF was enormous breakthrough when it was developed, but it is still merely a replication of natural conception, albeit in a laboratory dish. If this next step is even possible, it could bring reproduction to entirely new level. These technologies may make it possible to have genetic children without ovaries, without testes and without age limits, shattering our concepts about parenthood, even more so than it is today. It is not clear if society is ready for this yet.

UK agency weighs in on three genetic parent IVF

HFEA-Princeton-IVFWith government agencies in the US and UK, considering  allowing the use "cloning" technologies to prevent the transmission of mitochondrial disease, nuclear transfer has become a hot topic in Reproductive Medicine. As discussed in our prior blog post, IVF is used to obtain eggs from both the intended mother and an egg donor, and the nucleus of the egg  (which contain the mother's genetic material) is transferred into the donor egg (which contains healthy unaffected mitochondria).  British authorities have now issued a draft guidance document recommending letting research proceed on mitochondria donation. What will the USFDA recommend and will this type of research to help couples with mitochondrial diseases  move forward? Only time will tell.

Babies with 2 genetic mothers coming soon?

dnaMost of the genetic material in our cells is contained in the chromosomes which we inherit as a mixture from our mothers and fathers, but not all of it. A small amount of DNA is found in the mitochondria, the little structures in our cells that act like batteries.  The only way to prevent the transmission of the genetic diseases of the mitochondria to date in couples who wants their own genetic children has been through the use of donor egg IVF. The problem is with donor egg is that the baby receives no genetic material from the the mother, and that only way around that problem would be to move the nucleus (which contains mom's genetic material) from the mother's egg into a donor egg. That process is called nuclear transfer and was banned by the US government because it involves cloning technologies. Now the FDA is considering lifting the ban to allow research into IVF with nuclear transfer for mitochondrial diseases. If successful, this would create babies with 3 genetic parents for the first time, a genetic mother, a genetic father and a mitochondrial mother.  Quite a bit to ponder.