Mitochondria: Definition and importance in fertility.

Over the past months, important news has been published on a variety of research being carried out on mitochondria.

A mitochondrion is a small organelle in the cell, essential in the production of energy and it intervenes in cell signaling. This organelle contains DNA which encodes 13 proteins. The mitochondrion also has the equipment to produce the proteins. A human oocyte or egg contains an amazing 100 000 to 600 000 mitochondria. Most other cells in the human body have less mitochondria.

These little organelles are inherited from the mother and their function must be preserved for the individual to be healthy, and in our case fertile.

Two interesting concepts on mitochondria investigation have emerged over the past weeks from the enormous amount of research that is being carried out. The first piece of news came out of England: the United Kingdom became the first country to legalize Mitochondrial Donation in February, 2015 which will be applied in October, 2015. The reason this technique is used is because the mother has a mitochondrial disease. The procedure is to fertilize an egg from the mother with sperm from the father. At the same time an egg from a donor is fertilized with the sperm of the father. Then the mitochondria are extracted from both embryos and the donor mitochondria are inserted into the mother’s embryo. If this embryo implants and the baby is born, the child will not inherit the mother’s mitochondrial disease.
Opponents say that embryologists are creating children from 3 genetic parents and that the child may suffer physically and mentally. This technique is not yet legal in the US.
Another hot topic in fertility news is the first baby born using the Augment technique, introduced by a Biotech company called Ovoscience. The technique is controversial and is not yet permitted in the US yet. It consists of obtaining ovarian stem cells from the patient and then extracting the mitochondria from the stem cell and injecting them into the woman’s egg after ovocyte retrieval. This method is used on women with poor egg quality. It seems that the poor quality is due to mitochondria whose function is to be the powerhouse of the cell and for some reason (predominantly age) these functions are not being carried out appropriately. Adding the mitochondria from the stem cells has been reported to dramatically improve the number and quality of embryos. This procedure is fascinating because the woman’s stem cells repair the poor quality egg- but it is not without skeptics due to the lack of regulation, and the future impact on the children born using this technique.

It will be interesting to see what the future hold and if these new practices are as revolutionary as they seem.

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