January 21, 2022

Ethics ignored in ‘3-person embryo’ technique

A doctor in Kiev says that two babies are on the way after mitochondrial manipulation

A fertility doctor in Ukraine is using highly controversial mitochondrial manipulation techniques to treat general infertility ahead of peer review and safety checks, according to New Scientist. Two women are 20 weeks pregnant with embryos created using the technique. Dr Valery Zukin, director of the Clinic of Reproductive Medicine in Kiev, says that he secured approval from ethics committees before proceeding. He plans to present preliminary results at the American Reproductive Technology Congress in New York this weekend. 

Dr Zukin’s clinic offers a full range of fertility services, including surrogacy and egg donation. 

Dr Marcy Darnovsky, of the Center for Genetics and Society, in California, points out that is the second time in three weeks that the magazine has broken stories about rogue fertility doctors using the “three-parent embryo” method.

“We appear to be in a race to the bottom, with fertility doctors ignoring evidence that points to long-term safety risks associated with these embryo engineering techniques,” she says. “They are ignoring ongoing policy debates and conducting dangerous and socially fraught experiments on mothers and children. And they appear to be actively seeking a media splash on the way down.”

Although the UK allows these techniques experimentally, it remains controversial both because of inadequate evidence of its safety, and because they produce “germline” or heritable modifications that raise serious social and ethical concerns.

“As many have predicted, allowing ‘3-person IVF’ for mitochondrial disease opens the door to widespread abuse by fertility clinics seeking to sell the latest IVF ‘upgrade’ to the largest possible customer base,” Darnovsky says. “Use of these biologically extreme procedures for infertility is based purely on speculation, yet it poses dire risks to future children and generations. This is the ugly face of commercial and status incentives driving unscientific human experimentation.”

The previous New Scientist story concerned John Zhang, a New York-based fertility doctor who claimed he used a different “3-person IVF” technique known as spindle nuclear transfer in Mexico in order to evade US regulations. Following that breaking story, reports of the live birth of a “3-parent baby” were circulated widely by the media. 

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