Discovering mitochondrial miracles


MCT Campus

The visual above depicts the two different methods of ‘mitochondrial transfusion’. One showing both eggs fertilized beforehand. The second method shows the egg being fertilized in post.

Benjamin Brynjulfson-Reardon, Staff Writer

There are and will always be talk of new and old diseases; of terrible cancers and crippling disabilities that foundations raise money to cure. Yet there is one that is not mentioned so often, and very often misdiagnosed. It is called Mitochondrial Disease.

  Mitochondria are what let most life forms on earth exist. They are present in almost every cell in our body. They are likened to batteries or powerhouses in a cell.

Mitochondria create more than 90% of the energy in our bodies needed to sustain life.

But, when someone has a Mitochondrial Disease, their mitochondria do not generate energy properly or not enough. This causes cells within the body to degenerate and slowly die. Depending on where the mitochondria are malfunctioning, it can result in:

Loss of motor control, muscle weakness and pain, gastro-intestinal disorders and swallowing difficulties, poor growth, cardiac disease, liver disease, diabetes, respiratory complications, seizures, visual/hearing problems, lactic acidosis, developmental delays and susceptibility to infection.

Every 30 minutes, a child is born that will develop a mitochondrial disease by age 10. The United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation estimates 1,000, to 4,000 children in the United States are born with a mitochondrial disease each year.

Exact numbers are hard to acquire as children and adults struggling with the disease are hard to determine because they are so often misdiagnosed. Most only correctly diagnosed after their death and there is no known cure for mitochondrial disease.

Mitochondria DNA (MtDNA for short) is only passed down by the mother through the egg as the MtDNA in sperm is broken down shortly after fertilization for energy. This means that MtDNA is only passed down by the mother.

This also means that defective MtDNA is passed down to children conceived, and most do not survive past infancy, those that do rarely survive to their twenties.

Mitochondrial disease is on a range, to where a person can live a relatively ‘okay’ life, but most have some sort of physical or mental dysfunction at varying levels as a result to of MtDNA mutations.

While there is no known cure to the mutations and disease itself, there have been recent developments in Britain where a law was passed for a process called ‘Mitochondrial Transfusion’, or donation. The name varies but the results are the same.

The law allows two methods to allow adults with MtDNA mutations to have their own children without the risk of passing on their own mutated MtDNA.

Children already conceived in this way are being called ‘Three parent babies’ because they have three biological parents even though their appearance is unaffected by the donor, as well as the donor is not actually regarded as a= parent.

Both involve a second woman donating their healthy MtDNA and having the original woman with the mutation to place their egg nucleus or chromosomes within the donor’s egg after removing the donor egg’s nucleus or chromosomes have been removed.

“If this is something parents really want, they should be able to get it here in America.” Sophomore Anne Williams said on MtDNA transfusion.

This method does bring up fears of those worried about Eugenics and such things as ‘designer babies’. The fear that this is a step towards genetically modifying the youth of tomorrow, either to be more intelligent, stronger, more resistant to disease.

There of course is the notion that people are playing god whenever such scientific advances are taken. Even though replacing MtDNA does not affect personality, nor appearance, as well as the ability to genetically modify humans is not near.

“The belief that scientists or doctors should not play God has always struck me as odd. Playing God — in the sense of interfering in the natural course of events so as to improve human lives — is precisely what doctors are required to do every day of the year. Whether transplanting naturally faulty hearts, or delivering a baby by cesarean section when natural birth may be impossible or dangerous, the very essence of medicine is to right the wrongs of nature.” New York Times contributing Op-Ed Writer Kenan Malik said on the notion of ‘playing god’.

Eugenics: the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics.

It was developed largely by Francis Galton as a method of improving the human race; it fell into disfavor only after the perversion of its doctrines by the Nazis.

“It’s just not fair; to know that if you have a child they’ll have little chance of making it into the world. That has to be a horrible feeling for parents that want children, to know that if they did, their child could be unable to even move.” Junior Jack Augnstein said.

The question is, should the U.S. implement such a law and allow those with MtDNA mutations to have the option, the chance, to have their own offspring without fear of debilitating diseases.