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Mitochondrial Gene Therapy

Mitochondrial Gene Therapy

Mitochondria as tiny power stations within our cells, working tirelessly to provide the energy our bodies need to function. These powerhouses have their own unique DNA, separate from the genetic material found in the nucleus of the cell. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) constitutes a mere 0.1% of the cell’s total DNA, and interestingly, it doesn’t play a role in determining individual traits like appearance or personality.

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About MRT Technique

MRT techniques are like a genetic swap for a woman’s faulty mitochondrial DNA, where a donor’s healthy mitochondrial DNA replaces the defective one. When the embryo forms, most of its DNA still comes from the parents who provided the egg and sperm. However, a very small fraction, less than 1%, comes from the donor.

Think of mitochondria as tiny powerhouses within cells, providing the energy to keep them running smoothly. While a child inherits DNA from both parents, mitochondria are exclusively passed down from the mother.

For some individuals, mitochondrial diseases pose serious and potentially life-threatening challenges, though these conditions are rare. One potential treatment involves replacing the faulty mitochondria in a woman’s eggs through IVF. This process, akin to the one performed in Greece, involves transferring the woman’s DNA from her egg into a donor egg after removing the donor’s DNA. The resulting embryo is then fertilized with sperm to initiate development.

Why is it so controversial?

Some folks are uneasy about the concept of a baby having three biological parents. They worry that mitochondrial DNA plays a significant role in shaping crucial traits like personality. However, the general agreement among scientists is that swapping mitochondria is akin to changing a battery – it’s not likely to significantly affect a person’s behavior.

Others argue that this technique is unnecessary. They point out that it won’t benefit those who are already born with mitochondrial diseases. Many parents only discover they are carriers of such diseases after having children who are sick. Moreover, those aware of the risk of passing on a disease have alternative options, such as using a donor egg. This method is primarily intended for individuals carrying genes for the disease who still desire a child genetically related to them.

Another concern is the potential long-term genetic impact. By mixing genetic material, embryologists are essentially introducing lasting genetic alterations that will be inherited by future generations. Some fear that this could set us on a slippery slope towards germ-line editing – a path that might eventually lead to the creation of “designer babies“.

Is it ethical?

With this, a woman’s inalienable right to become a mother with her own genetic material became a reality. However, some experts say the technique raises ethical questions and should be banned in cases not involving disease. The risks of the technique aren’t entirely known, though may be considered acceptable if being used to treat mitochondrial disease.

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