The age of the three-parent family

by JENNY HOPE, Daily Mail

Babies could be born with three parents as a result of a controversial fertility breakthrough.

Scientists have created twins with two "genetic" mothers and a father. They combined the eggs from two females to create the pregnancy.

But the mother lost both infants despite carrying the second for six months, when it died in the womb.

The American experts behind the experiment went to China to carry out the research after it was banned everywhere else in the world. But they halted the work after the distressing chain of events.

Experts, however, say the research should be allowed to continue as it "holds the promise"

of helping women whose infertility is caused by poor-quality eggs.

The technique enables women using donated eggs to have a baby which is genetically theirs, rather than the donor's, by fusing different parts of the two eggs.

Details of the case were disclosed at the annual meeting of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine in San Antonio, Texas, by Dr Jamie Grifo, of the New York University School of Medicine.

The treatment involves using the shell from a donated fertilised egg to rejuvenate another which might otherwise fail to develop into a pregnancy.

It helps women suffering disorders affecting the mitochondrial cells of the embryo - those suroutlawedrounding the egg nucleus which "kick-start" the pregnancy.

Poor-quality eggs are often afflicted by the same problem. The technology means a newlycreated embryo contains genetic material from three sources.

The DNA comes from the father, whose sperm is used to fertilise an egg taken from the mother and an egg from a donor woman.

After fertilisation the "shell" of a donor's egg - which contains DNA - has its central material replaced by genes from the mother's embryo.

The shell and centre are joined by electrofusion, with the reconstructed embryo retaining most of the mother's DNA, say scientists.

Chinese researchers working with Dr Grifo and another scientist, John Zhang, also from New York, used the nuclear transfer technique on a woman of 30.

She suffered a succession of failed pregnancies after IVF treatment. The team created five 'reconstructed' embryos which were put back in her womb, where two failed to implant.

Of the three remaining pregnancies, one was destroyed by 'foetal reduction' to give the remaining twins a better chance of survival.

But one baby died at 24 weeks and the other at 29 weeks after a cord prolapse - where the cord keeping the baby supplied with blood is squashed.

Dr Grifo said tests showed the babies had been normal and had no genetic defects.

The shell of reconstructed embryos contained only small amounts of DNA, being mainly energy cells which varied little between individuals.

But the doctor admitted scientific knowledge was not sufficiently advanced to be able to say exactly what had been donated. "I regard it as the same as donating an organ," he added.

The work had been halted by the team. But a ban introduced last week by China's regulatory authorities would prevent it resuming.

Dr Grifo blamed "paternalistic" rules and fears over cloning and abortion in the U.S. for halting a ten-year research programme. As a result, infertile women would "suffer".

He added: "If the regulations we have today had been in place when fertility research started, we would no longer have the treatments which benefit millions worldwide."

Scientists previously used a simpler technique that also resulted in three genetic parents. It involved swopping the shell material rather than the nucleus - but has also been

The latest treatmentis more effective, being similar to the DNA-swapping technology that led to the birth of Dolly the sheep. The work of Dr Grifo and his team was last night condemned by pro-life groups.

Alison Cook, of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said the nuclear transfer technique was banned in Britain under legislation designed to prevent human cloning.

She added: "It is using three people's DNA, which raises ethical and practical questions.

"It's not allowed to take genetic material from the cell of an adult or an embryo to put into another embryo to make it grow into a child."

Josephine Quintavalle, director of the group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: "To have manipulated Mother Nature to the extent of creating an embryo with two mothers and one father is really horrifying.

"And what about the two babies that died? Do they not matter? They have been reduced to the status of experimental objects."

Nuala Scarisbrick, trustee of the anti-abortion charity LIFE, said: "We are opposed to all such procedures because the child is deprived of knowledge about its parentage. It will have two mothers but won't know anything about one of them."

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