This tecnique include, in all its applications, generating of new individuals in vitro, who will only be implanted in their mothers if they are healthy and, if not, they will be discarded
The first clinic offering mitochondrial transfer techniques, called Darwin Life, has been founded by John Zhang, who led the team involved in the birth of one of the first baby resulting from these procedures.
Use mitochondrial replacement from a young donor to rejuvenate the eggs of an elder woman
Although the techniques were first developed to prevent the transmission of mitochondrial diseases to offspring, it was later thought that they could also be applied to the field of infertility treatment . Instead of replacing the “sick” mitochondria with “healthy” donor mitochondria, the idea is to use mitochondria from a young donor to rejuvenate the eggs of a future mother with age-related fertility issues. The intent of the clinic is the latter, “to revolutionize the scope of reproductive technology, offering comprehensive treatments, products and services to address reproductive aging”. Nevertheless, it has not yet been proven that this mitochondrial change can really restore fertility in these women (see HERE ), which is already a major argument against marketing the procedures for this purpose.
Several safety issues remain unclear a bioethical assessement
Others criticize the fact that the application of mitochondrial transfer has extended beyond the prevention of disease transmission, when several safety issues remain unclear, such as
- mitochondrial carryover – it has not yet been possible for 100% of the mitochondria in the new individual to come from the donor
- the reversion phenomenon – the percentage of “sick” or “old” mitochondria may increase again after application of the techniques
- or mismatch – possible incompatibilities between the mother’s and the donor’s mitochondria).
- There are also the risks associated with any genetic modification of the germline, which are maximized by the fact that they will be transmitted from generation to generation.
In our opinion, difference in applications is not ethically relevant, because it is not simply that in one case scientists are trying to cure a sick child and in the other to treat infertility. In both cases, it is about generating new individuals in vitro, who will only be implanted in their mothers if they are healthy and, if not, they will be discarded. While it is true that increasing the range of applications of these techniques increases the likelihood that something will go wrong, the ethical problems remain the same in both instances: safety issues, in vitro production of human beings and discarding of the “imperfect” ones.