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Your Baby

“Revolutionary” Newborn Has 3 Parents

1:45

There’s been a first in the use of in vitro fertilization (IVF) to help parents avoid passing on a fatal rare disease to their baby.

In what many medical experts are calling a “revolutionary” medical event, a baby with DNA from three donors has been born.

As first reported in New Scientist, a science and technology magazine published in the U.K., the baby boy was born on April 6, 2016 and doctors say he appears healthy. His parents were treated by U.S. fertility specialists in Mexico, where there are no laws prohibiting such methods. His mother carries a genetic mutation for Leigh syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that usually becomes apparent in the first year of life and is generally fatal.

The newborn’s mother had suffered four miscarriages and had two children who died from Leigh syndrome, one at age six and one at eight months. It’s a devastating disease for parents and children. Symptoms of Leigh disease usually progress rapidly and lead to generalized weakness, a lack of muscle tone and a buildup of lactic acid in the body, which can cause respiratory and kidney problems. Children rarely live more than six or seven years.

While the mother herself is healthy, a gene for the disease resides in her DNA, in the mitochondria that powers cells. In this mother’s case, about 25 percent of her mitochondria reportedly carries the disease-causing mutation.

In order to avoid transferring the disease, the couple sought help from Dr. John Zhang, a reproductive endocrinologist at New Hope Fertility Center in New York City. 

“This mitochondrial disease is usually a very devastating situation for the babies and the family,” Zhang told CBS News.

The controversial procedure involved using the three-parent IVF technique to ensure that the disease mutation would not be passed along to the baby. So far, it seems to have worked.

The procedure, called spindle nuclear transfer, involves removing the healthy nucleus from one of the mother’s eggs and transferring it to a donor-egg, which had, had its nucleus removed. The resulting egg – with nuclear DNA from the mother and mitochondrial DNA from a donor – was then fertilized with the father’s sperm. 

The resulting embryo contained genetic material from three parents – the mother, the egg donor, and the father.

According to New Scientist, the scientists in this case created five embryos using the technique. Only one developed normally and that embryo was implanted in the mother.

The baby has not shown any signs of developing the illness, Zhang said. His mitochondria have been tested and less than one percent carries the mutation, believed to be too low a level to lead to disease.

The controversial fertility method is not legal in the United States. Zhang told New Scientist that they conducted the procedure in Mexico because “there are no rules” there.

The procedure received widespread media attention when lawmakers in the U.K. became the first to approve its use last year.

Sian Harding, a medical professor and bioethics adviser who reviewed the ethics of the technique in the U.K., told New Scientist the case seems to have been handled according to ethical standards.

“It’s as good as or better than what we’ll do in the U.K.,” said Harding.

Much of the controversy surrounding this procedure involves safety and religious concerns.

Harding notes that this is not the first time multiple DNA has been used to try and create a healthy baby. “Last time embryologists tried to create a baby using DNA from three people was in the 1990s, when they injected mitochondrial DNA from a donor into another woman’s egg, along with sperm from her partner. Some of the babies went on to develop genetic disorders, and the technique was banned. The problem may have arisen from the babies having mitochondria from two sources.”

In Britain, where the procedure allowing DNA from three parents was approved in February 2015, leaders disagreed heatedly on the issue while it was up for debate in the House of Commons, with some raising concerns about “designer babies” and “playing God.” Leading churches in Britain – both Protestant and Catholic – opposed the procedure on religious and ethical grounds.

Medical and moral concerns about this IVF method are most likely going to continue as experts look for ways to refine the controversial procedure.

But for one couple, being able to cradle their newborn - that shows no sign of carrying the deadly Leigh disease - will forever be a precious gift. 

Story source: Mary Brophy Marcus, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/first-3-parent-dna-baby-born-rare-disease/

 

Your Baby

Does Your Unborn Baby Hear You?

2.00 to read

More than twenty years ago I remember reading that fetuses can learn to recognize their mothers and father’s voices and then respond to those voices as newborns. I thought… well maybe… but it seemed to me that voices from outside of the womb would sound muffled from inside. Of course, I don’t remember my in utero experience so I don’t really know how words sound.

Over the years though, scientists have continued to examine how and what babies learn before they are born.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland have determined that fetuses not only hear and recognize voices but they can become familiar with different words and different pitches used when saying those words.

The study involved 33 moms-to-be, and examined their babies after birth. While pregnant, 17 mothers listened at a loud volume to a CD with (2), four-minute sequences of the made-up words “tatata” or “tatota.” The words were said with several different pitches. The moms-to-be listened to the recordings beginning at 29 weeks of pregnancy -about 7 months along- until birth. They heard them around 50 to 71 times.

Following birth, researchers tested the babies for normal hearing and then performed an electroencephalograph (EEG) brain scan to see if the newborns would respond to the made-up words and different pitches. And sure enough, the brain scans showed increased activity from the babies who had been listening to the CD in utero when the words were played to them after birth. Not only did they respond to the words, but also seemed to recognize the different pitches used when they heard them.  

The babies born to the mothers who had not listened to the CDs while pregnant showed little reaction to the words or pitches.

 “We have known that fetuses can learn certain sounds from their environment during pregnancy,” Eino Partanen, a doctoral student and lead author on the paper, said via email.

“We can now very easily assess the effects of fetal learning on a very detailed level—like in our study, [we] look at the learning effects to very small changes in the middle of a word.”

Some experts believe the finding shows that not only can a third-trimester fetus hear and recognize voices; he or she can also detect subtle changes and process complex information.

“Interestingly, this prenatal exposure also helped the newborns to detect changes which they were not exposed to: the infants who have received additional prenatal stimulation could also detect loudness changes in pseudo words but the unexposed infants could not,” Partanen says.

“However, both groups did have responses to vowel changes (which are very common in Finnish, and which newborns have been many time previously been shown to be capable of).”

You may be wondering why is it even important that scientists know if fetuses can recognize voices or words.  Partanen says because sounds heard in utero may shape the developing human brain in ways that affect speech and language development after birth.

“The better we know how the fetus’ brain works, the more we’ll know about early development of language,” Partanen says. “If we know better how language develops very early, we may one day be able to develop very early interventions [for babies with abnormal development].” 

An abstract for the Finnish study is published on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences website.

Does talking and singing to your baby before it’s born actually stimulate his or her brain activity and increase language learning? Some experts say definitely yes, others say it has no impact. But really, most moms and dads enjoy baby bump bonding whether it’s productive or not. And who knows, maybe your pre-born hears you loud and clear. 

Source: Meghan Holohan, http://www.nbcnews.com/health/unborn-babies-are-hearing-you-loud-clear-8C11005474

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A few life lessons & fun with Elf on the Shelf!

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