World’s first ‘3-person baby’ born using ‘revolutionary’ method

File photo © Edgard Garrido
The world has welcomed its first baby born through a new technique which incorporates DNA from three parents.

It was revealed by New Scientist on Tuesday that Abrahim Hassan was born in April to Jordanian parents Ibtisam Shaban and Mahmoud Hassan, but his DNA also includes some from a donor.

Shaban, the infant’s mother, carries the genes for Leigh syndrome, a fatal disorder which causes the central nervous system to fail. There are a total of 37 genes with this syndrome, found in mitochondrial DNA. Separate from the majority of DNA, mitochondria are genetic materials passed down from mothers and create energy which cells can use.

Having previously lost two children as a result of Leigh syndrome, Shaban and Hassan sought out John Zhang, a doctor at New York City’s New Hope Fertility Center to see if there was a way to remove the genes affected and replace them with ‘clean’ DNA, which is where the third parent comes in.

There are a number of theories that can be applied when using the so-called ‘three parent’ technique but only UK law allows for such measures.

The technique allowable under UK law is known as pronuclear transfer. This involves fertilizing a mother’s egg and a donor’s egg with the father’s sperm. The nucleus is then removed from both fertilized eggs before they start dividing into early-stage embryos. Importantly, the nucleus from the donor’s fertilized egg is then discarded and replaced with the nucleus from the mother’s egg.

The problem with this technique for Shaban and Hassan, however, was that as Muslims, they couldn’t morally stand over the fact that two embryos would be destroyed in the process. Instead, Zhang and his team used what’s known as a spindle nuclear transfer.

This involved doctors removing the nucleus from a donor egg and replacing it with the nucleus from one OF Shaban’s eggs, resulting in an egg with nuclear DNA from Shaban and mitochondrial DNA from a donor, thus removing Leigh syndrome from the equation. This egg was then fertilized with Hassan’s sperm.

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Zhang’s team created five embryos using this technique with one embryo developing as per normal. This embryo was then implanted in Shaban. Hassan was born nine months later, as planned, with almost all DNA from both his parents but also 0.1 percent from the donor.

While Shaban and Hassan worked with doctors in the US to develop this method, neither this or the UK method are legal there so they went to Mexico where Zhang says “there are no rules.”

Researchers involved in cell research have very much welcomed the child’s unique form of conception.

Dr Dusko Ilic, a senior lecturer in Stem Cell Science at King’s College London, told New Scientist that this was “great news and a huge deal.”

“It’s revolutionary,” said Ilic, while Professor of Clinical Genomics at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, Bert Smeets, described the announcement as “exciting.”

Although the method used in this instance is new, a number of doctors in the 1990s tried creating a baby using DNA from three people but the babies went on to develop various genetic disorders, resulting in the technique being banned.