The pioneering technique – which was made legal in the UK in 2015 – is an attempt to prevent children being born with mitochondrial diseases.
Mitochondrial diseases are long-term, genetic and often inherited disorders that occur when mitochondria – which, for those of us who can't remember our biology classes, are special compartments (called organelles) in our cells – fail to produce enough energy for the body to function properly, which leads to brain damage, muscle wasting and heart failure as well as blindness.
Mitochondria are only passed down by the mother, and so the technique – which is a modified form of IVF – uses mitochondria from a healthy donor egg to prevent diseases being inherited.
The first baby born via this technique was to a family having treatment in the US in 2016. So far "less than five babies" have been born using the technique, according to The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, including the baby recently born in the UK.
Most of the baby's DNA has come from their two parents, but around 0.1% has come from a third, donor woman. This donor DNA is only relevant for making effective mitochondria and does not affect other traits such as appearance. Notably, the donor does not constitute a "third parent".
The advancement has been described as "encouraging" by experts, but they also warn there's still a long way to go. "The number of reported cases is far too small to draw any definitive conclusions about the safety or efficacy," said Dagan Wells, a professor of reproductive genetics at the University of Oxford, who took part in the research. "Long-term follow-up of the children born is essential."
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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