Fear of a Three-parent Baby Stalls Treatment of Mitochondrial Diseases

What happens when scientific hope and scientific fear converge?

That's the current scenario in the United States regarding mitochondrial replacement, a procedure that prevents a mother from passing mitochondrial diseases to her child. 

Doctors combine cytoplasm from a healthy woman's egg with the egg of a patient with a mitochondrial disease, neatly subverting a DNA mutation that can cause heart failure and dementia. The resulting child boasts three sets of genetic material — and yes, you could interpret that as meaning the child has three biological parents.

But as Annalee Newitz points out in an Ars Technica article, all this amounts to is a kind of "microscopic organ transplant," not the sort of gene editing that critics often point to as a slippery slope to "designer babies."

Still, "Frankenstein" casts a long shadow over the world of science. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration remains hesitant to approve mitochondrial replacement testing — even in the face of last week's 200-page presentation by a panel of scientists on the related ethical, social and policy considerations, a presentation the FDA actually requested.