The fear of passing terrible mitochondrial genetic diseases keeps many women from having children, but a new technique developed at Oregon Health & Science University promises an effective new option. Essentially, the nucleus of a mother’s egg cell is transplanted into a donor egg, in the process discarding the mother’s mitochondria and the associated genetic diseases.
Importantly, because egg cells deteriorate rapidly, the scientist showed that the technique is compatible with freezing of the cells so that the mother and donor don’t have to be ovulating in sync.
From Oregon Health & Science University:
The current Nature paper also expanded upon the previously reported nonhuman primate work by demonstrating that the method was possible using frozen egg cells. Mitochondria were replaced in a frozen/thawed monkey egg cell, resulting in the birth of a healthy baby monkey named Chrysta.
The second portion of the study, which was completed at ONPRC, is also considered an important achievement because egg cells only remain viable for a short period of time after they are harvested from a donor. Therefore, for this therapy to be a viable option in the clinic, preservation through freezing likely is necessary so that both the donor cell and a mother’s cell are viable at the time of the procedure.
While this form of therapy has yet to be approved in the United States, the United Kingdom is seriously considering its use for treating human patients at risk for mitochondria-based disease. It’s believed that this most recent breakthrough, combined with earlier animal studies, will help inform that decision-making process.