Commercializing three-parent babies

We cannot help but mention an Internet article by Emily Mullin on June 13, 2017, titled “The Fertility Doctor Trying to Commercialize Three-Parent Babies“, from the viewpoint of unethical commercialization of unestablished and yet-to-be-validated infertility treatments.

As it turns out, one of our New York City colleagues, who a few months ago was in the news for helping a woman conceive a “3-parent baby” by what is called spindle-cell transfer, has again made the headlines. Readers of these pages may recall that this case was presented as an altruistic step in helping a mother avoid another affected child, who had lost prior children to a mitochondrial genetic disease which she transmitted to her offspring.

CHR: Mitochondria in a CellIt now turns out that nothing is ever as altruistic as it is presented to the public. As this article disclosed, John Zhang, MD, PhD, quietly established a new company, (seriously!) called Darwin Life already in 2016 (we assume the Food and Drug Administration, FDA, will love the name), which on its website proclaims “introducing human egg reconstitution in vitro fertilization,” i.e., the use of nuclear transfer technology to treat older infertile women by placing the woman’s (older) nucleus into young egg donor’s cytoplasm.

We previously discussed in these pages that the hypothesis behind such an approach of treating older women is the belief that in older women the mitochondria in the egg’s cytoplasm have run out of steam. Replacing them with mitochondria from a young egg donor, therefore, should improve the eggs’ overall quality, while any resulting child will, overwhelmingly, still have all of his parents’ genes, though the child will also have a very small amount of genetic material from the egg donor (hence the name “3-parent” IVF).

Importantly, at current knowledge levels, all of this is still a hypothesis that needs to be proven. Once again, we strongly encourage well-conducted research to determine whether this hypothesis is correct or not. That, however, does not seem to be the goal of Darwin Life. As Emily Mullin reports, the goal is to charge a laughable $80,000-120,000 per IVF treatment cycle with spindle cell transfer!

Interestingly, Zhang is planning to offer this procedure to women only between ages 42 to 47. Women at these ages here at CHR still quite routinely conceive with regular IVF with intensely personalized protocols. Maybe, we should invite Zhang to a prospectively randomized study in women at those ages, comparing not only how regular IVF outcomes at CHR compare to those with spindle cell transfers by Zhang, but also, what the cost difference ends up being.

This is a part of the July 2017 CHR VOICE.

Norbert Gleicher, MD, leads CHR’s clinical and research efforts as Medical Director and Chief Scientist. A world-renowned reproductive endocrinologist, Dr. Gleicher has published hundreds of peer-reviewed papers and lectured globally while keeping an active clinical career focused on ovarian aging, immunological issues and other difficult cases of infertility.