A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Banned Therapy Could Save Lives


Mitochondrial replacement moratorium should be reconsidered, researchers say.

Mothers with mitochondrial DNA mutations often give birth to children who face incurable and fatal illnesses. But a much-studied form of mitochondrial replacement (MR) could prevent the transmission of such diseases from mothers to children, researchers say.

For that reason, two researchers argue that the US moratorium that includes MR should be reconsidered through a process that engages the public, medical professionals, the US Food and Drug Administration, and Congress.

The authors—Eli Adashi, MD, professor of medical science at the Warren Alpert Medical School, and Harvard Law School Professor I. Glenn Cohen, JD—make their case in a March 2018 commentary in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Such a process could clarify the benefits of the procedure—namely, the births of healthy children—and decouple it from misplaced concerns about genetic editing of embryos, the authors wrote. MR therapy simply replaces mutation-bearing mitochondria in oocytes with donated mutation-free mitochondria.

“A thousand children are born every year in the US with serious, life-threatening issues that in a better world could be prevented by mitochondrial replacement,” Adashi says. “While I have every respect for the sanctity of life, this issue is not about the sanctity of life. There is an inherent hypocrisy in holding this procedure hostage at the expense of 1,000 children each year who are doomed to die a painful death. There is nothing anti-life about the procedure, because no embryo is destroyed, and the life of baby is saved.”

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