Mitochindrial replacement techniques, which produce "three-parent babies," promise to allow infertile couples to have babies, and even allow people with debilitating genetic disorders to have healthy babies. The largely unregulated tech is already producing babies despite the unknown long-term risks.
To date, at least five babies who have the DNA of three people have been born using MRT (and at least one is a girl, which means that her genome changes will be heritable). Experts don’t know if there other MRT babies are out there, but with ongoing regulated clinical trials of the techniques in the UK, there may soon be more.
Forty years after the birth of Louise Brown, the first “test-tube baby,” we are living in a golden age of fertility tech. Even its detractors agree that MRT is an astonishing development in medical science — human genetic engineering in action. And it’s just one among a rash of new fertility techniques that stand to fundamentally change how humans procreate: live-donor uterus transplants, preimplantation genetic testing and selection, egg freezing, hyperprecise in vitro fertilization (IVF), CRISPR genome editing, in vitro gametogenesis (which uses reverse-engineered stem cells to make eggs and sperm from men), and the list goes on.
The U.S. government has made it clear it has no interest in approving MRT anytime soon, stalling the industry stateside, but the international fertility industry is booming. Medical tourism is a global market valued at $68 billion, and experts say a growing portion of that business comes from people traveling overseas to get frontier fertility treatments that are illegal at their home base.
• The Babies at the Fringes of Fertility Tech (Medium / Alex Pearlman)
Image: Andreas Wohlfahrt
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