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Mom, Mom, and Dad? The Development of the Three Parent Baby

Written By: Ashley Koca

For women ailed with mtDNA disease, motherhood may seem out of the question. Though, as of 2017, no longer are energy deficiencies issues as Dr. Valery Zukin of the Nadiya Clinic in Ukraine, along with John Zhang of the New Hope clinic in New York, has completely changed the circumstances of these women.

Dr. Zukin’s company, Darwin Life-Nadiya, performs a procedure in which couples produce a three-parent baby. To perform the procedure, the clinic uses a donor embryo, an embryo in which all DNA is removed besides the thirty-seven mitochondrial, and then inserts the fused DNA of the man and woman who want the child. These “test-tube” babes then wind up with DNA traceable to three separate people — the woman who will care for the child, her partner, and also the embryo donor that provided her own mitochondrial genome. 

Described by Dr. Reznichenko in the journal Applied & Translational Genomics, the technique used by Dr. Zukin is a type of nuclear transfer — pronuclear transfer, to be exact. Using pronuclear transfer, the intending mother’s and donor’s eggs must first be fertilized by the intending father’s sperm. Both oocytes are then allowed to grow and develop until the stage in which pronuclei become visible. Employing micromanipulation technology, scientists can then discard the donor’s pronuclei and replace it with the pronuclei of the intended mother (Reznichenko 2016). 

The other type of successful nuclear transfer is referred to as spindle transfer. This alternate type of transfer was performed by Dr. John Zhang for a couple hoping to have a child unafflicted by Leigh syndrome in 2016. Using this method, nuclear transfer occurs before fertilization. To do this, the technique involves the removal of the donor oocyte spindle during metaphase II to be discarded, and the same removal of spindle DNA from the intended mother’s oocyte to be transplanted into the enucleated donor oocyte (Reznichenko 2016). 

Unfortunately for U.S. citizens, both of these practices have been deemed unallowed by the FDA — although, according to the National Academy of Sciences, the practices could be conditionally ethical (Stein 2018). Because of this women must travel to Ukraine to have the practice performed by Dr. Zukin. According to the Darwin Life-Nadiya webpage, eleven infants from five countries have been conceived using his technique — hailing from Ukraine, Sweden, the U.S., the U.K., and Isreal. In Dr. Zhang’s case, because of FDA regulations, he performed his form of nuclear transfer in Mexico (DL-Nadiya). 

Currently, Zukin’s procedure is marketed at around $8,000 for native Ukrainians and approximately $15,000 for foreigners — not to mention that foreigners have travel expenses on top of this procedure’s steep price. This provokes the argument that Zhang’s and Zukin’s medicine only brings the world closer to the age of “designer babies” available only to the wealthy, thus steepening the gap between the rich in the poor medically. In response to Marcy Darnovsky’s “designer baby” criticisms, Zukin has said that his goal is to aid infertile women in having their own, genetically-related children and prevent the risk of inherited mtDNA diseases. 

Although prohibited in the U.S., the Nadiya clinic provides hope for all aspiring mothers unable or unwilling to bear children afflicted by mtDNA diseases. 

Work Cited

Reznichenko, A., Huyser, C., & Pepper, M. (2016). Mitochondrial transfer: Implications for assisted reproductive technologies. Applied & Translational Genomics, 11, 40–47. doi: 10.1016/j.atg.2016.10.001

Stein, R. (2018, June 6). Clinic Claims Success In Making Babies With 3 Parents’ DNA. Retrieved from

DL-Nadiya. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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