CHR Issues Comments on SCIENCE Magazine’s Article on “Controversial Fertility Treatments”

Experimental mitochondrial transfer has potential to improve fertility treatment outcomes for older women without sacrificing genetic connection to the children, according to Center for Human Reproduction, a leading fertility center in New York City.

For Immediate Release

Women above age 40 over the last 10 years have represented the, proportionally, most rapidly growing age group having children in the U.S. Once over age 42, most women desirous of children, however, have few options and, more often than not, end up with egg donation.

SCIENCE Magazine’s writer, Jennifer Couzin-Frankel, published on March 30, 2015 a well-informed article on various experimental treatments, which investigators currently pursue or attempt to be pursue. Based on animal data and preliminary experimental data in humans, it is widely believed that an important reason why eggs from older women lose their ability to lead to pregnancies lies in small tubular structures in the cytoplasm of the egg, called mitochondria. They are considered, as Couzin-Frankel points out in the title of her article, the “power plants” of eggs.

Investigators, therefore, believe that replacing aged mitochondria with healthy mitochondria may greatly improve the fertility potential of older women, who still want to get pregnant with their own eggs. Unfortunately, as the article also reports, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently prohibits such mitochondrial donations.

As the media recently widely reported, the United Kingdom permitted the experimental use of mitochondrial donation but only for prevention of mitochondrial diseases, and not for treatment of infertility. The reluctance about mitochondrial donations comes from the fact that mitochondria in the egg contain a tiny amount of genetic material–the only genetic material outside of the nucleus of the egg. A mitochondrial donation, therefore, creates what the media have come to call 3-parent in vitro fertilization (IVF), with the mitochondrial donor contributing ca. 1.5% of the offspring’s total genome.

While Couzin-Frankel article describes the science of mitochondrial donation and surrounding controversies accurately and fairly, the piece fails to place the subject into the practical reality of female infertility in older women, who are forced to give up 100% of their genetic maternity in the only treatment option currently available to them–egg donation. Mitochondrial donations from young egg donors, if successful, would in contrast allow them to maintain all of their nuclear genomic maternity.

Our center serves the oldest patient population in the U.S. In 2013 (the latest year national data are available) 42.9% of CHR’s IVF cycles (with patients’ own eggs) were performed in women above age 42, while the national average was only 8.7%. We, therefore, understand better than most the desperation older women often face when given no choice but egg donation.

Since the SCIENCE article extensively quotes CHR’s Medical Director, Norbert Gleicher, MD, CHR’s intent to pursue mitochondrial donations in infertile women and CHR’s so far unsuccessful attempts to receive permission from the FDA, we consider it opportune to point out that infertile older women, after receiving appropriate informed consent, should be entitles to make choices to participate in properly designed clinical trials of mitochondrial donations. After all, their only other alternative is complete loss of genetic maternity, and they have no time to wait!

About Center for Human Reproduction (CHR)
The Center for Human Reproduction (CHR) is a leading fertility center of international renown with research affiliations with multiple leading academic research institutions, including Rockefeller University in New York City, The Salk Institute in La Jolla, California and the Rochester University School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, New York. Norbert Gleicher, MD, CHR’s Medical Director and Chief Scientist, is available for further inquiries.