Couples who are having difficulty conceiving have the option of turning to in vitro fertilization (IVF). The process allows that couple to pass their own genetic material onto an offspring that is biologically theirs. The UK recently approved a new kind of IVF that has been referred to as “three-parent babies”. The two techniques are somewhat different but each can be used to help couples produce a healthy child.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a complex procedure that combines an egg and sperm outside of the body. The conception happens in a laboratory. Once an embryo (or embryos as is often the case) form, they are placed inside the womb.
The egg comes from the woman who wants to become pregnant, and the sperm comes from her husband (or male partner). IVF is expensive and is typically sought out by couples who are faced with infertility, but there are plenty of other medical issues that can make it difficult for a pregnancy to occur.
The age of the woman is a major factor in the success rate of IVF. In general, pregnancy via IVF is achieved at an average of 29.4% of all cycles. The rate can be higher if the woman is in her twenties and lower if the woman is over the age of 35. Women who are over 40 have the lowest success rate of pregnancy from in vitro fertilization.
In February of 2015, the UK became the first nation to legalize what has been called “three-parent” IVF. The technique involves mitochondrial transfer and enables a woman who has flawed mitochondria to have a healthy baby. The technique involves three people, but the baby will not actually end up with three parents.
The main purpose of the “three-parent” IVF is to prevent a baby from inheriting a mitochondrial disorder. Around 4,000 children per year in the United States are born with a type of mitochondrial disease. Many do not survive for more than a few months.
A “three-parent” baby uses the egg and genetic material from the mother and the sperm and genetic material from the father. The faulty mitochondria is removed from the mother’s egg and replaced with healthy mitochondria from a donor’s egg. The baby will get his or her genetics from the biological mother and father (but not from the third parent).
It has been suggested that the first “three-parent” baby could be born in 2016. Right now, the only place where the procedure has been approved is in the UK. There hasn’t been any specific information on what the cost of “three-parent” IVF would be or how that cost compares to “regular” IVF. That being said, it is an option that will help some families.
Image by Daniel Lobo on Flickr.
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