Controversial Fertility Treatment Uses an Egg’s Energy Power Plant

By MartaFF ( [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Mitochondria are derived from bacteria are the energy producing powerhouses of a cell. Currently, a Massachusetts company strongly feels that these little cylinders are the key to conceiving a baby. The results have spurred many groups of doctors outside of America to test that theory on infertile women. More than 10 women became pregnant via the company’s proprietary IVF method, which adds a bolus of a woman’s own mitochondria to her mature egg.

The Study

The United States Food and Drug Administration has put up objections and roadblocks in front of a fertility specialist and a stem cell biologist who wish to clinically test out the mitochondrial theory in the country. The team would like to try this diverse IVF strategy which involves exchanging out a woman’s mitochondria by switching out some chromosomes from her egg into an egg contributed by another female.

This technique is referred to as “mitochondrial replacement therapy” or MRT and it was recently legalized in the UK, in order to prevent rare genetic diseases. However, even before it was offered, these two researchers applied for permission to use it in females who are trying to conceive.

The Food and Drug Administration has stated it requires more information before allowing the team to move forward with the project.

One important question for both IVF strategies is whether faulty or aging mitochondria are actually the driving forces behind infertility and if fixing the problem will restore the eggs to health. OvaScience, a UK biofirm, states the results it presented at a meeting in San Francisco, CA provide the answer to that question. In one small segment of females with fertility issues, the company achieved a pregnancy rate of 35 percent.

Some scientists like John Eppig, a reproductive biologist at Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine states he is “highly troubled,” “that the company has already tried the method out for human pregnancies.” Particularly, it’s disturbing because there have been no published studies involving animal subjects to see if the method actually improves fertility, let alone whether it is safe for any embryos.

Three Parents

The MRT method is particularly interesting, because it results in an infant, with mitochondrial DNA from a donor and the rest of its DNA comes from its biological mother and father meaning it has three genetic parents.

The UK approved MRT for use in February, but it is not allowed for infertility treatments. It’s permissible to use the method, only if the embryo may inherit a potentially fatal genetic mutation harbored in the DNA of their mother’s mitochondria.

In America, there are no laws barring MRT, but the Food and Drug Administration has not sanctioned it for trials.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration has asked the Institute of Medicine to weigh the risks and benefits of MRT and it is expected to release a report sometime in 2016.

The fertility industry rarely does research trials, but when such a treatment offers the potential for such hope, it may be worthwhile to consider and explore.


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