Experimental Procedure Gives Girl Three Biological Parents
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Alana, who is 13, is one of 17 children in the United States who has three biological parents.
When Alana's mother, Sharon, was trying to get pregnant, she had four unsuccessful attempts at in vitro fertilization. Desperate to have a baby, she turned to another fertility doctor, who told her about an experimental procedure called cytoplasmic transfer. The procedure requires taking a small amount of cytoplasm, the material outside of the cell nucleus, from a healthy donor egg and injecting it into the egg of the mother before the egg is fertilized with sperm in vitro. The cytoplasm contains mitochondria, which provide energy to the cell and contain DNA. The belief is that the donor material helps give the mother's egg strength to develop into a viable embryo.
"It's almost like giving this egg a big Monster drink," fertility specialist Dr. David Hill says.
The resulting child has DNA from three parents, which raises questions about health risks to the children, as well as moral questions. Since Alana was conceived in 2000, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviewed the procedure in 2002 and 2014 and has found that it is not safe enough to be used in humans.
"We really have to be careful experimenting with babies," fertility specialist Dr. Mark Kan says. "We don't know the full consequences and ramifications long term for this procedure."
Dr. Kan explains that changes in mitochondria can lead to serious illnesses, some of which don't become apparent until later in life.
Sharon says she was informed about the unknowns of the procedure and accepted the risk. She says she is glad she had the procedure and blessed to have her daughter.
Alana says she doesn't feel different from other teenage girls.
"I'm healthy; I'm happy; and there's absolutely nothing wrong with me," she says.
OB-GYN Dr. Jennifer Ashton encourages anyone considering fertility treatment to seek out a board-certified physician working at a reputable fertility center that is credentialed.