In DepthReproductive Medicine

Eggs' power plants energize new IVF debate

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Science  03 Apr 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6230, pp. 14-15
DOI: 10.1126/science.348.6230.14

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Mitochondria are our cells' energy-producing powerhouses. Now, a Massachusetts company is convinced that these microscopic cylinders are also key to conceiving a baby, and several groups of physicians outside the United States are testing that controversial premise in women with fertility problems. More than 10 women are pregnant via the firm's proprietary in vitro fertilization (IVF) method, which adds a bolus of a woman's own mitochondria to her mature egg. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has erected roadblocks in front of a fertility specialist and a stem cell biologist who want to clinically test a different IVF strategy: swapping out a woman's mitochondria by transferring chromosomes from her egg into an egg from another woman. The technique, called mitochondrial replacement therapy, was just legalized in the United Kingdom to prevent rare genetic diseases. FDA says it needs far more data before allowing the work to proceed. A central question for both IVF techniques is whether faulty or aging mitochondria actually drive infertility, and whether correcting that problem restores eggs to health.